If anyone is looking for a special place to visit set in a stunning high moor location and has even a passing interest in rare natural habitats they would be hard pressed to better Wistman’s Wood in the middle of Dartmoor.
The wood is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a rare example of a native upland oak woodland that has established on a granite scree slope (the ground is covered in boulders).
Because of the prevailing weather conditions the trees are all rather stunted and though their size may make them appear young they are in fact very old. According to the Visit Dartmoor website: ‘In 1620 it was claimed that the trees were "no taller than a man may touch to top with his head". In 1912 a geological survey party tried to walk the wood but gave up due to the dense vegetation. In the early 1970s the trees were reported as being very distorted and on average 10ft high, with occasional specimens over 25ft.’
Because of the age of the woodland – the oldest oaks are estimated to be between 200 and 400 years old - it has a well-established ecosystem: the site is noted for its lichens, mosses and ferns, many of which are growing on and in the trees and can be seen hanging from the branches.
The wood is about a 20-minute walk each way from the car park opposite the Two Bridges Hotel just outside Princetown - take the signposted track through the wooden gate. The first part of the track (that goes to a small farm house) is flat and level and while the second section is a bit heavier going and can be wet, it is still perfectly achievable.
A trip to Dartmoor will always leave you feeling revitalised but perhaps in need of a cup of tea – we suggest a visit to the Two Bridges Hotel, or for something stronger, The Warren House Inn on the Moretonhampstead Road (where JPA once had a fine Christmas lunch).