Nowhere conjures up the spooky mood of Dartmoor more than Wistman’s Wood.
Legends abound about how this small remote wood of dwarf, stunted oak trees hanging with beards of lichen and moss have attracted ‘Wisht Hounds’ – a “pack of huge black dogs with blood red eyes, huge yellow fangs and an insatiable hunger for human flesh and souls” according to Legendary Dartmoor.
On a more down to earth level Wistman’s Wood is one of the highest oakwoods in Britain and is pretty difficult to walk through due to the clitter (granite boulders) that is scattered amongst the trees.
Although the wood is in a remote location it can be easily reached from Two Bridges via a well designated footpath which shouldn’t take any longer than half an hour.
On a summer’s day it’s a pleasant walk alongside the West Dart River, but even at this time of the year you need to keep your eyes open for adders (Britain’s only poisonous snake).
Dartmoor abounds with tales and legends, and none more so than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, The Hound of the Baskervilles
. It is said that the inspiration for the book was his spooky experience of the area around Hound Tor, and anybody who has been on Dartmoor on a dark foggy night will understand exactly how he felt.
Less than a mile away from the tor is Kitty Jay’s Grave which has a tale of its own, and although it has been embellished by some over the years, this is not a fictional story, but one that still evokes the spirit of Dartmoor in a way that is every bit as mysterious as Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous book.
Totnes has a reputation for being one of the country’s quirkiest towns, and even its foundation has a mythical story attatched to it. According to legend, after being defeated in the Trojan War, the Trojans sailed off to find another home, and one of them, a prince by the name of Brutus, landed at Totnes, where he proclaimed “Here I stand and here I rest, and this town shall be called Totnes”.
Thanks largely to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century account Historia Regum Britanniae, Brutus was regarded as the founder of the Britons and therefore the first King of Britain. If you subscribe to this part of our island’s history, and want to embrace it even more, then there’s a granite slab in Fore Street called the Brutus Stone, which is supposed to be the spot where he came ashore. Seeing that it lies several hundred yards uphill from the river, either the stone or the river has moved since then, but I suppose that wouldn’t bother anyone who has magic mushrooms on toast for breakfast.