Aside from May Day in Oxford, the highlight of my trip was Wistman’s Wood in Dartmoor. This is a small, ancient copse of gnarled oak trees and moss-covered boulders, associated in local legend with the Wisht hounds, black dogs of the Wild Hunt. Armed with somewhat shoddy directions from the internet, and the more useful directive of the man at the nearby hotel to just follow the Dart River the whole way, we set off on the moor.
We looked all around in the distance for the wood, tentatively identifying a smudge on the landscape that seemed much too far away – but we were to discover that distance can be deceiving out there. As we neared it and became more sure of our destination, a heavy mist descended, further obscuring the copse. In fact, it wasn’t until we were right upon it that we could see it clearly – and then it was if no fog existed at all, and the brilliant greens of moss and lichen emerged.
You’ll notice in the picture above – even though I felt I was standing perfectly vertically, and my mother had the camera straight… somehow everything is at an angle. Really captures the feeling of the whole place.
I took a few moments by myself and sat in the natural shelter made by some of the boulders (below). Someone else had felt drawn to this spot recently, as there was a single daffodil laid there like an offering. I made my own offering, which turned out to be unexpectedly powerful. While it had the air of forboding common in such numinous places, I would have stayed there much longer, but some German tourists came along (and immediately, one of them slipped and fell rather badly), and I felt it best to move on.
On the way back, I too slipped and fell in a way that would have been rather bad (could have easily sprained an ankle) if I hadn’t thought fast enough to let myself fall properly, avoiding injury but not a bit of pain (and mud). I considered it my sacrifice to the spirits of the place. In return, I picked up a rock I found nearby (not in the wood itself, which did not feel right), that turned out to be very alive, and became both a companion and helper spirit for the rest of the trip.
We saw tracks and scat from several animals out there on the moor, but the only ones we saw in the flesh were the numerous sheep grazing about. This last one came through a hole in the stone wall to watch us as we passed.
Already I find that when I think of my trip, and all the many amazing sights we saw, I keep coming back over and over again to Wistman’s Wood. I hope someday to spend much more time there, and in the surrounding area. It was deeply powerful.