Today I visited a place that has been on my list for quite some time.
I’m at Wistman’s Wood in Dartmoor, a beautiful moss covered oak copse remotely situated at high altitude. Legend has it that it was planted by druids, as ‘Wistman’ is derived from ‘wise man’, another name for druids. Designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1964, this stunning native upland wood sits elegantly on south-facing slopes littered with granite boulders.
The contrast of Dartmoor to my very familiar Exmoor is apparent. The vast expanse that Dartmoor provides takes the eye as far as the horizon, where you can clearly observe the rolling contours of lush green terrain in spring and summer, where grazing animals are aplenty and on clear days, the sky almost mirrors the sweeping freeness of the landscape.
As we approach the wood, I can’t quite believe I am in the same dimension. It feels like I had stepped into a different world, manoeuvring giant boulders covered completely with moss, gnarly oak tree trunks twisting and reaching around me. As sunlight filtered through the clustered canopy, sparkly reflections are cast onto the mossy path I was following. Once in, the ancient oaks surround us, embracing our existence and welcoming us into their personal hallowed space.
As I observe the huge amounts of epiphytic ‘beard lichen’ (Usnea sp.) suspended from oak branches – an indicator of pure air quality – I can’t help but feel a sense of melancholy. With their frayed and crooked frames, it was almost as if these pedunculate oaks have been waiting for centuries to share their venerable presence, these ‘wise men’ reaching out to impart their wisdom of life through shape and form.
As I tread gently through this magical copse, I take in the enormity of Nature’s resilience and adaptability in this landscape. According to historical records, Wistman’s Wood is likely a remnant of ancient forest c. 7000 BC, and with climate change the oldest oaks here (400 to 500 years old) have started growing more vertically from their previously stunted forms, a true example of how trees evolve with their environment.
I step out of this ancient oak woodland, taking with me its elegance, enchantment and everlasting existence. See you again, Wistman’s.
Wikipedia contributors. (2020, May 8). Wistman’s Wood. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:00, June 7, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wistman%27s_Wood&oldid=955510624