Saturday, 6 July 2013

To Wistman's Wood, Crow Tor and Devil's Tor

I've finally got around to transferring the photos of my Whitsun walk up the West Dart valley from my phone to my laptop.  This is one of my favourite spots in the world, so it must have been excitement that made me omit to check that my memory card was in my camera.

One of the things that makes Wistman's Wood so very special is that like the bumble bee, it is one of Nature's impossibilities.  At about 1,300 feet above sea level, it is simply too high for penunculate oaks to grow there.  So although you're sure you see it,  it doesn't really exist.

Amongst the stunted oaks clambering and crawling from moss-wrapped boulders are hollies, rowans and willows, all festooned in mosses and lichens, some of which are extremely rare.  And there are snakes.  Lots and lots of snakes.  

As befits a place that doesn't exist, plenty of legends nest in its branches.  In particular, Wistman's Wood ('wisht' being local for wierd or uncanny) is the lair of Old Dewer and his hounds, known elsewhere as the Wild Hunt.  You would be ill-advised to walk here at night.  
Luckily for us, the weather was fine, unlike a previous occasion when I walked this valley and was overtaken by the sort of mist for which Dartmoor is notorious.  But that's another story. 

There's a mischievous joy in showing a newbie favourite haunts knowing that with every step Dartmoor is extending its claws and hooking them in.  That said, Ted and I like to break new ground too, so instead of fording the West Dart at the weir and following the Devonport Leat back down to Two Bridges, we crossed it beneath  Crow Tor (which actually resembles a roosting chicken) and headed on up the valley.  
To ring the changes, here's a wintry lino print of Crow Tor by one of my favourite print makers, Arthur Homeshaw, a Bristolian who lived and worked for many years in Devon and oh if I had the money, I would collect the living daylights out of him.

Whatever the weather, you have to treat Dartmoor with respect.  It's an unremitting landscape ... 

... so it's vital, even in fine weather, to take a compass and map with you.  
From Crow Tor we continued north to Rough Tor where we paused for refreshments and a chat with a fellow walker who was making his way east to the ruins of Brown's House. 
We, on the other hand, were  headed west - over extremely tussocky terrain - for the unprepossessing Devil's Tor, on top of which perched a handsome raven, apparently oblivious to any symbolism we might have attributed to him.  He hung about for quite some time, floating overhead and cronking amiably. 
Close to Devil's Tor was our ultimate destination, Beardown Man, which looks out over the Cowsic valley.  Erected over 4000 years ago, it's the highest and almost-but-not-quite tallest standing stone on the moor.   ('Man' is related to the Celtic word 'maen' meaning stone, but the fact that there's a standing stone called Three Boys on Shovel Down makes me more inclined to think of them as a family.)
Here's an idea of how tall it is, and you can bet there'll be another six feet or so of stone beneath the moor.  
From Beardown Man, we made our way towards Beardown Tors which give the impression of being castellated and are very pleasing to behold. 
Past Beardown Tors there was a view looking back across Devonport Leat and the West Dart to Wistman's Wood.     
Then it was back to the car via the leat as it slid mysteriously, almost mechanically, through the dark conifers of Beardown Plantation.  Ah, wild and lovely Dartmoor, I'll be back soon. 


  1. Beautiful.

    I miss the hills and moors. Maybe some time in the future I'll be strong enough to start walking again (fingers crossed).

    1. I hope so, Terry. One of the joys of Dartmoor is that you don't have to walk too far before you get a sense of being away from the 21st century and somewhere quite special.