Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor

You walk a little way along the valley through the moors – the landscape is coarse and somehow ancient, guarded but not unfriendly. The little valley is carved out through rolling hills, which are yellowish with scrub and grasses and the dark-and-yellow dots of heather. Through it the river sparkles, mirror-black and musical.

About half an hour and over the stye, and you come to a small copse of twisted dwarf oaks. With their gnarled trunks and wyrd, splayed out branches these trees look unusual, though not out of place on these moors. Rightly they seem odd – this kind of stunted oak grows in only three places on Dartmoor and in the world.

The forest floor is a rough sea of granite boulders, which the trees grow amongst: lichens and mosses cover every surface, every rock and trunk, hanging from branches in great cumulus veils. Wistman’s Wood is nimbly navigated, ducking through the dwarf oaks and over rocks and the odd, spidery shadows.

Amidst these eerie trees and the strange luminosity of the mosses, it’s easy to see why oaks were sacred to our druid past. Sacred doesn’t have to be cherubs and sweetness: earth and mystery are sublime, profound in their silence. Wistman’s Wood is suffused with its great age: you feel only a footstep away from those celts who called this enchanting place holy.



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