Northwest Dartmoor – Devon
Whether you believe it to be a sacred grove planted by Druids or a remote and haunted place, Wistman’s Wood is one of Dartmoor’s most beautiful fragments of ancient forest. Its unique habitat and wilderness feel have inspired poets and artists through the centuries .
The wood is dominated by contorted, dwarf oaks with impenetrable, tangled branches and roots that have spread out between huge moss-carpeted boulders. Lichens festoon the aged branches and bilberries grow on the rocky floor in this feral place with green, earthy scents.
Near to the northern edge of the wood is the ancient Lych Way corpse road. The dead were wrapped in shrouds and carried along it for 12 miles for burial at Lydford, the nearest church from this remote part of the moor. Dusk on the night of a midsummer full moon is an ideal time for a spine-chilling walk. As the indigo night slowly draws in, you can easily imagine the slow creaking of an old cart and in parts the old wheel ruts are still visible. Asyou near the Tavy, stop at Coffin Wood where the corpses were transferred into caskets.
Lydford is also the site of an impressive wooded gorge, home of the outlaw Gubbins clan who lived in rough shelters here and terrorised travellers. In this narrow chasm, churning river stones have hollowed out smooth, rounded bowls and thundering waterfalls have carved their way deep into ancient rocks. The National Trust has repaired a Victorian viewing gangway that goes right into the heart of one of the pots, allowing you to stare down into the terrifying whirlpools of the great Devil’s Cauldron. Further downstream there are paddling places and the impressive Whitelady Falls, which tips a 30-metre plume onto sightseers below, its huge, white drops as hard as hail.
There are many fine streams in this area of Dartmoor. The west-facing aspect of Tavy Cleeve makes it a wonderful place to camp wild and soak up the last rays of the sun. One of the best views is from East Okement, where the army is said to have dynamited the rock to create a small but beautiful plunge pool at Cullever Steps, for servicemen to cool off during hot summers. It can still be reached via the decaying network of moorland military roads. As you bathe here, among the grazing wild ponies, Devonshire’s rolling countryside unfolds like a soft counterpane below.