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This wood on Dartmoor is made up of twisted miniature oak trees, growing through a tumble of moss covered boulders. It is probably a remnant of the original woodland that covered Dartmoor before over grazing by sheep reduced the amount of woodland. Naturally self sustaining woodland relies on seedlings being able to grow to maturity but sheep graze them off as they leaf. It is an eerie beautiful place.
The jumble of stones and roots make it hard for the sheep to browse there so they stick to the easier terrain and the wood has survived. So has the name – Wistman – which can be interpreted in various ways. It may come from the Saxon word ‘wealas’, meaning foreigners – ie the original inhabitants, the Welsh. It my come from the old Welsh ‘uisg maen coed’ water stone wood. Or it may be a corruption of Weas man or wise man. Legends abound that it was an abode of Druids but even if it’s origins are mundane the wood is an astonishing survival from the time that Britain was carpetted in woodland.
It is possible that something else has also survived in the area. For years there have been reports of odd occurrences on roads and lanes near the woods. Vehicles veer and swerve inexplicably. There have been deaths. Drivers who have survived have been white and shaking and have refused to explain how they came to crash into the stone walls flanking the roads or they have explained but have been judged mad by any who heard their story.
They say that a pair of hands – large, masculine, very hairy hands – grab the steering wheel of the cars or coaches, the handlebars of motorcycles, and try to guide the vehicle off the road.
But “they” would say anything.