"It is hardly possible to conceive anything of the sort so grotesque as this wood appears,” the local Reverend Swete declared about Wistman’s Wood in 1797.

Advertisement

Gazing into the twisted and gnarled branches of the stunted oak trees entwined with each other, grotesque isn’t really a word that springs to mind when you visit this ancient wood in Dartmoor. It is odd-looking, but it is beautiful.

Discover the legends and beauty of Wistman's Wood on an exciting circular walk that starts and ends at Two Bridges car park.

Looking for more trails in Dartmoor? Check out our guide to Dartmoor National Park walks.

Old mossy woodland
Sessile oaks and moss in Wistman's Wood, Dartmoor/Credit: Getty

Access to Wistman's Wood

Wistman's Woods is under considerable visitor pressure and, as a result, Natural England and the Dartmoor National Park Authority are encouraging visitors to refrain from entering the woodland.

Signs have been erected explaining how erosion, which is extremely evident on the paths leading to the wood, is unfortunately damaging the slow-growing lichens and mosses that make it a protected site.

Natural England are asking visitors to follow the paths around the woodland and not to enter it.


Wistman's Wood legends

Dartmoor is a landscape ringing with legends and myths. People say that Wistman’s Wood was planted by the druids. Its name is said to derive from the words ‘wise man’, another name for a druid.

Another legend claims that hounds live in the trees and come out at night, seeking the souls of those who dare to enter their domain.


Wistman's Wood walk

2.8 miles/4.5km | 1.5 hours | easy-moderate

1. Two Bridges car park

This gentle but magical walk begins from an unceremonious old quarry car park, opposite the Two Bridges Hotel. The way to ancient Wistman's Wood, considered to be more than 6,000 years old, is simple and signposted – just a quarter of a mile's walk north of the car park, so you can relax as you settle into a steady stride.

2. Crockern farmhouse

Follow the track past Crockern farmhouse which will take you directly to Wistman's Wood, with Crockern Tor, and sites of prehistoric settlements, to your right.

3. Wistman's Wood

Before long, you'll yourself at the foot of the hallowed woodland. It sits like a dark, tangled mound on the slopes of the West Dart River. The oaks grow barely taller than 5.5m (18ft) high, and their tangled branches and the uneven rocky floor make it impossible for Dartmoor ponies and cattle to enter. This is the main reason why the wood still exists on the moor – its inaccessibility keeps it protected from destructive grazing.

It's important that you follow Natural England signs around the wood and not through it. Walkers are advised not to disrupt the delicate ecosystem by exploring in between the trees. The National Nature Reserve is also home to a significant population of visiting birds.

There are more than 100 different species of lichen in Wistman’s Wood. On a single bough, you could identify a dozen species. The most eye-catching of them is bearded lichen, which can grow up to half a metre long. It droops from the branches, making the trees look like writhing arms grabbing fistfuls of passing witches’ hair.

More forests and woodlands

Discover a forest near you with our guide to the most spectacular forests and woodlands to visit in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Dartmoor river in autumn

4. Longaford Tor

Those who are interested in gaining higher ground can climb the valley beyond Wistman’s Wood to the summit of Longaford Tor, where windy panoramic views of Dartmoor can be enjoyed. Look for Princetown and its famous prison, Cut Hill – the furthest place on Dartmoor from any roads – and the ruins of the Powder Mills factory, which produced gunpowder.

You can also see Cherrybrook Bridge, known as Hairy Hands Bridge. It’s said to be haunted by the ape-like hands of an immigrant worker who was killed in an explosion at the factory.

Yellow lichen means no air pollution
There are more than 100 different species of lichen in Wistman’s Wood/Credit: Getty

5. Crockern Tor

For a high-level return to Two Bridges Hotel, follow the ridge south from Longaford Tor to Crockern Tor – the centre of the Stannary Parliament – where the local tin miners came to meet between the 15th and 18th centuries. The miners were exempt from Westminster laws, and were governed by their own strict regulations. Severe punishments were handed out to errant tin miners – those caught using impurities in their tin would be forced to swallow a tablespoon of the molten stuff.

More like this

From here, return to the valley path and walk south back to the car park.


Wistman's Wood map

Wistman's Wood walking route and map

Wistman's Wood map

Useful Information about Wiseman's Wood

How to get there

The start of the walk to Wistman’s Wood is situated in the car park across the road from the Two Bridges Hotel on the B3357.

Find out more

HIGH MOORLAND VISITOR CENTRE
Old Duchy Hotel, Princetown, Devon PL20 6QF
discoverdartmoor.co.uk

Eat

Badgers Holt, Dartmeet
PL20 6SG
01364 631213
badgersholtdartmoor.co.uk
Devonshire cream teas and secret recipe scones.

Eat/Stay

Advertisement

Two Bridges Hotel
Princetown, Dartmoor
PL20 6QF
01822 890581
www.twobridges.co.uk
This 18th-century coaching inn is at the heart of Dartmoor, with oak beamed bedrooms and four-poster beds.

Authors

Abigail is a freelance writer and editor based in Hereford.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement