Nestled on the eastern slopes of the West Dart river stands a wood of dwarf oak trees, Wistman's Wood is one of only three remote high-altitude oakwoods on Dartmoor, Devon, England. It lies at an altitude of 380–410 metres in the valley of the West Dart River near Two Bridges.
It forms one of the highest oakwoods in Britain and, as an outstanding example of native upland oak woodland, was selected as aSite of Special Scientific Interest in 1964, It is also an NCR site and forms part of the Wistman’s Wood National Nature Reserve.
Once you walk into the tangled web of trees you are transported into a mystical world of moss carpeted boulders, lichens of all descript, finger like oak branches, all engulfed in a wonderful smell of earth and age. For millennia this small, mystical, stunted woodland has been held in awe and for many fear. Tales of Druids, ghosts, the Devil and a host of other supernatural creatures abound, some dating back to the long lost ages before man could write. Many writers have described the wood as being "the most haunted place on Dartmoor", others warn that every rocky crevice is filled with writhing adders who spawn their young amidst the moss and leaf strewn tree roots. Locals will never venture near once the sun begins it slow descent over the nearby granite outcrops for it is when the dark mantle of night draws tight that the heinous denizens of the wood stalk the moor in search of their human victims. So be afraid, very afraid, as the wagging finger of fate warns you to stay clear and risk not your mortal soul in the 'Wood of the Wisemen'.
The trees are mainly pedunculate oak, with occasional rowan, and a very few holly, hawthorn, hazel, and eared-willow. Tree branches are characteristically festooned with a variety of epiphytic mosses and lichens and, sometimes, by grazing-sensitive species such as bilberry and polypody. On the ground, boulders are usually covered by lichens and mossy patches – frequent species include Dicranum scoparium, Hypotrachyna laevigata, Rhytidiadelphus loreus and Sphaerophorus globosus – and, where soil has accumulated, patches of acid grassland grow with Heath bedstraw, Tormentil and Sorrel. In places protected against from livestock grazing, plants such as Wood sorrel, Bilberry, Wood rush and Bramble occur. A fringe of Brackensurrounds much of the wood.
The oldest oaks appear to be 200–400 years old having originated within a degenerating oakwood that survived in scrub-form during two centuries of cold climate. In c.1620 these old trees were described as "no taller than a man may touch to top with his head". Tree height had increased somewhat by the mid-nineteenth century, and during the twentieth century approximately doubled: in 1997 the maximum and average height of trees was around 12 m and 7 m respectively. In addition, a wave of marginal expansion of new oaks occurred after c.1900, which approximately doubled the area of the wood. Part of the evidence for these changes comes from a permanent vegetation plot located in the southern end of South Wood. A small part of this was recorded by Hansford Worth in 1921 and is the oldest known its kind in British woodland.
The name of Wistman's Wood may derive from the dialect word 'wisht' meaning 'eerie/uncanny', or ‘pixie-led/haunted’. The legendary Wild Hunt in Devon is particularly associated with Wistman's Wood – the hellhounds of which are known as Yeth (Heath) or Wisht Hounds in the Devonshire dialect.
(Source Wikipedia & http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/wistman.htm)