Wistman’s wood is one of only three remote high-altitude oak woods left on Dartmoor. It occupies a sheltered south-west facing slope and is nearly a mile and a half from the road at Two Bridges. The trees are stunted and their twisted branches are characteristically festooned with a variety of mosses and lichens. The ground is littered with moss-covered boulders which make walking virtually impossible. So this is where I found myself on my first full day in Devon and Cornwall, with nothing but the sound of birds in the treetops and the distant tinkling of the small river at the bottom of the valley. A strange place to find the Hounds of Hell, but legend has this as one of the most haunted places in England. I needn’t have worried though as there was a constant stream of walkers to keep them at bay. At least if I turned an ankle on the treacherous ground, there would be someone close by to hear my cries for help. Even standing still proved tricky and I was pleased at my earlier decision to leave the tripod in the car. Two legs were bad enough on this terrain, three would have been a nightmare!
It took a while to get the photograph featured here as the sun decided to put in an appearance, casting unwanted shadows in the undergrowth – so I sat on a nearby rock and waited. While I waited my thoughts drifted back to the tales I had read about red-eyed dogs with yellow fangs, roaming the moors for victims to drag back to Hell. Sometimes the small ghost of a dog called Jumbo can be seen scurrying around the rocks and boulders in search of rabbits. At night, the plaintive cries of the little terrier can be heard echoing down through the valley below. History has it that the poor dog died in the wood, from what nobody is sure, but there is a strong possibility that it was from an adder bite. I was just making a mental note to be well clear of the woods before dark when I heard the unmistakable sound of panting from behind, quickly followed by a warm, wet tongue on my hand. I spun around to see a middle-aged couple not far away. They laughed as they called their dog back, apologising for making me jump so much. I let them move on before quickly grabbing the shot I had been waiting for and packing up to leave.
One last photograph taken on my way out turned out to have more significance when researching the details for this blog post. Glancing back into the woods, I saw the familiar shape of a baby elephant’s head and it reminded me of one of my first ever toys. It was a yellow plastic elephant with the same upturned trunk and I called him Jumbo.