Wistmans Wood – Why this ancient forest is a must see on Dartmoor

Wistmans Wood

Wild Woodland on Dartmoor: Wistmans Wood

Similarly to our recent post about Spitchwick; Wistmans Wood is perhaps not what you’d expect to find on the top of Dartmoor. 

Rugged and desolate moorland is what springs to most people’s mind and so to find an ancient woodland, mystical in its gnarled and stunted form, contorted into tortuous forms and covered head to toe in lichen above a floor of tumbling boulders, is a real treat.

Dog at Wistmans Wood
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    Directions to and parking at Wistmans Wood

    Wistmans Wood is right in the heart of Dartmoor. The car park is directly opposite the Two Bridges Hotel, PL20 6SW and is free.

    However it is a very small car park and is liable to fill up before you get there. You do have the option to park at Two Bridges Hotel, at a cost of £5 for 4 hours (correct as of April 2021). This is refundable against any food or drink orders and we can tell you that the light bites for lunch are outstanding!

    In terms of the driving, typical Dartmoor roads provide access from all directions and should cause no major concerns. Generally wide, two laned and commanding open views over the area with the odd narrower or tighter bit thrown in here and there for good measure.

    Don’t forget that most of the national park has a speed limit of 40mph and there are regular mobile speed cameras dotted across the park.

    Making the walk to Wistmans Wood

    The path to Wistmans Wood

    Take the path through the gate at the back of the car park, or cross the road from the Two Bridges Hotel, head through the car park and up to the gate.

    The path will take you up a gentle incline and past a solitary house on your left.

    Once you have passed the house, all of a sudden you’ll be on the top of the moor with breathtaking views across its barren grasslands.

    Follow the path left as it makes its way above the river gorge below. This will take you all the way to Wistmans Wood. The path skirts the upper edge of the woodland with Longaford Tor above you to the right.

    At this point you have a few options.

    • Make the return journey back along the path
    • Take a detour up to Longaford Tor for far reaching views
    • Carry on passed the woods, cross the ford as shown on our map and return on the other side of the river gorge.

    Take the detour up to Longaford Tor for spectacular views, and an easier route to the river crossing

    Our recommendation is to make the trek up to Longaford Tor, followed by crossing the river Dart and returning on the other side of the valley. The views alone are well worth it, we prefer a circular route, and the path from the top of the Tor to the river crossing is better defined than the path from the woods to the river crossing. 

    We ended up with very soggy feet when we tried it that way.

    The return journey follows a very pretty and small (man-made we think) stream the entire way back. It takes you through a tall, wonderful smelling pine forest before you end up walking through Beardown Farm. This is a working farm so ensure that all dogs are kept on lead before crossing the style into the farm.

    The walk itself is easy enough, between 4 and 6 miles depending on which route you take. There are a fair number of styles, and the path is rough for a lot of the journey so pushchairs, wheel chairs and those with reduced mobility may find it difficult.

    The return journey back to Two Bridges
    Pine Forest on Dartmoor

    Legends & Folklore of Wistmans Wood

    Stunted oak trees at Wistmans Wood

    Many ancient stories and theories surround Wistmans Wood – here are a few of our favourites.

    The name derives from the word Wisht – meaning haunted in modern language. Legend has it the tricksie Pixies haunt the woodland waiting to play mischieve on stray wanderers.

    After darkness falls, the ancient Wisht (Haunted) Hounds appear from the woods in search of lost folk to hunt. Rumoured to be large, snarling beasts with burnt eyes they will chase prey for miles across the moors under the moonlight until the prey, exhausted, succumbs to the mighty beasts in a grim ending.

    And if all that wasn’t enough – Ghost Foxes are purported to hang out on Longaford Tor, overlooking the woodland. Responsible for the death of a Shepherd many years ago and rumoured to be heard  howling in ghostly unison every year in the week before Christmas. 

    We love a good bit of folklore – let us know your best Wistmans Wood mystique in the comments below.

    Wildlife & Conservation

    Wistmans Wood itself is one of the last, and oldest, remaining stunted oak forests in the UK. There is some evidence that the woodland once covered the whole of Dartmoor, cleared by hunter gatherers around 5000BC.

    The trees, stunted and twisted as they are, are taller than they were 500 or so years ago when they were described to be no taller than a man.

    If you enter the woodland, do so with caution so as not to damage any habitat or greenery. If you have a dog with you it is best not enter at all as the woodland is home to a large population of adders.

    The woodland is part of several preservation schemes (SSSI, NCR, & Wistmans Wood National Nature Reserve), none of which expressly forbid entry but in order to preserve the woodland and keep access for future generations please act responsibly.

    Refreshments at the Two Bridges Hotel

    After your walk make sure to stop for a beer, coffee or lunch at the Two Bridges Hotel. We had a beer battered fish roll and a barbecue pulled pork roll on our visit and both were absolutely outstanding.

    Staying at Wistmans Wood

    Camping at Wistmans Wood

    You won’t be able to camp at Wistmans wood but here are a few good campsites nearby that we’ve used over the years:

    Ashbourne Woods, 30 minutes by car

    Wray Valley Camping, 25 minutes by car

    Westdown Farm Wild Camping, 40 minutes by car

    Tavistock Camping & Caravanning Club Site, 10 minutes by car

    Wild Camping on Dartmoor

    Wild camping on Dartmoor is expressly permitted for lightweight camping only. That is on foot, carrying everything you need for a maximum of 2 nights. And this is only in select areas.

    In reality you could probably spend longer than this as who is going to know, but carrying more than a few nights equipment and supplies might get tricky.

    Fires of any kind are prohibited due to the inherent risk of wild fires on large, windy areas of grassland.

    Unfortunately, wild camping in a campervan, motorhome or large groups in a tent is prohibited. And whilst plenty do overnight on Dartmoor in their vehicles there is a chance that you will be moved on by park rangers, particularly during tourist season.

    Whatever you choose to do, respect the land, respect the nature and ensure you leave nothing behind and as such will allow future generations to enjoy the land as we do.

    You can find out the full set of rules and regulations here.

    Hotels & B&Bs near Wistmans Wood

    Plenty on offer at Dartmouth, 1 hour by car

    Dartmoor Lodge, 20 minutes by car

    The Cherrybrook B&B, 25 minutes by car

    Two Bridges Hotel, located at start of walk

    Wistmans Wood – well worth checking out

    Wistmans Wood Boulders

    Wistmans Wood truly is a unique place within Dartmoor and the whole of the UK. If you’re visiting Devon then it is well worth taking a day to visit and explore this ancient wonder.

    If you have more time in the area then we’d definitely recommend spending some time at Spitchwick, and if you’re up bright and early you may even be able to visit both on the same day.

    Have you been to Wistmans Wood, what are your thoughts – let us know in the comments.

    Go Explore! At Wistmans Wood.

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