Wistman’s Wood

Ever heard of Hound of the Baskervilles? Arthur Conan Doyle’s third Sherlock Holmes novel?

Well, the book is set in Dartmoor, which can be found in England’s west country, and was inspired by local tales of a supernatural, murderous hound that dwelled in the area.

In fact, an entire pack of these phantom canines has allegedly been running amok over the moorlands for centuries!

Known as the “wish”, “yeth”, or “heath” hounds, these monstrous, eerie creatures are said to call Wistman’s Wood their home.

And, after seeing the place, I can certainly see why.

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At first, this hauntingly beautiful forest did not want to be found. No doubt, the hounds were making it difficult for us. Due to a lack of cellphone service and road signs, we drove past the small, pebbly parking lot several times before realizing that it was our destination.

Setting out in the pouring rain and biting wind in naught but our tennis shoes, I was determined to overcome the elements and reach my elusive wood, for which I was quickly developing feelings of both increased resentment and  longing.

Needless to say, our first attempt was a dismal failure. The path forks early on, with no indication of which direction hikers must go. This would have been frustrating in any situation–much worse when you’re sopping wet, getting pounded by freezing rain, and can’t feel your toes.

Therefore, we grudgingly accepted defeat.

However, I’m happy to report that our second attempt far exceeded the first. I can only assume that the hounds were off wreaking havoc elsewhere.

For others planning to visit Wistman’s Wood–stick to the left! The path isn’t clearly marked, so it’s easy to get lost. Also, it can get pretty wet and muddy, so I recommend rain boots, especially during winter.

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Once we reached this little tangle of moss-drenched trees, any and all inconvenience was swiftly forgotten.

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This place is positively other-worldly. I could easily picture elves, pixies, and unicorns frolicking amidst the winding green branches, or lounging upon the great lichen-spattered stones.

However, despite the wild beauty, I couldn’t ignore a slight air of unrest riding on the wind, seeping between the trees. Even our Dartmoor host confessed that he too had had a “bad feeling” about the place when he’d wandered through previously. Again, I can only attribute this to the lingering presence of the hounds…

Once you’ve made the trek back, be sure to warm up with tea and cakes in the Two Bridges Hotel, across the street from the trail head.

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Travel Details: Take a (roughly) 3-hour train to Exeter from London, then rent a car and drive into Dartmoor National Forest, where you’ll find plenty of Bed & Breakfasts in Dartmoor’s numerous small towns. We stayed at the Long House B&B in Moretonhampstead, which was an absolutely lovely experience with extremely kind and accommodating hosts. Since cellphone service is hard to come by in Dartmoor, make sure you have clear directions or a functioning GPS in your car, and remember that the trail head is across from the turnoff to the Two Bridges Hotel.

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