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Wistman's Wood

Wistman’s Wood is one of the most popular spots on Dartmoor. The ancient woodland is steeped in mystery, legends, stories of ghosts, and of course provides a unique landscape which is fairly accessible. Recently the site has suffered a lot of damage due to the amount of footfall through the ancient woodland. Here we explore how to enjoy a walk with a view of the ancient woodland without risking any damage to the site, while also searching for Bronze Age archaeology which would be missed if taking the common route through the woodland. The walk is not particularly challenging in most weathers but is best experienced in drier weather. For those less physically able it is advisable to not attempt to cross the river and instead to follow the outward route back.

   Remember that the archaeological remains are protected sites: although in many cases they don’t appear to amount to much, avoid walking over the remains where granite may be dislodged and wherever possible keep to existing trails. The walk here uses Ordinance Survey grid references which have been pinpointed using the OS app which is a recommended aide to the route because even the free version displays all the archaeological features. I also, as always, recommend using the paper OS map of Dartmoor or at least the yellow OS map of the relevant area which can usually be picked up at the Dartmoor Information Office at nearby Postbridge or Princetown.

   The walk starts at the carpark at SX60950 75057 opposite the Two Bridges Hotel. Take the path north through the gate, keeping to the pathway for about 0.2 miles where there is a drystone wall leading uphill away from the track to the East. Here you can continue along the path or make a diversion uphill to the East where you will follow the line of the drystone wall until you come to an intersecting length of wall running north. Walk through the wide gap in the wall where you will find some trace remains of a hut circle at SX61158 75449 and a reeve with (weather permitting) decent views. Turning North-West, a route can be picked out back to the path a little north of where it was left.

Bronze Age Conservation Walk

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   Cross the drystone wall but don’t follow the track down into Wistman’s Wood. The track forks left and right, take the right path staying uphill from Wistman’s Wood. Keeping below the summit of Littaford Tor there are several hut circles to find, most of which are in relatively poor condition and there may be some difficulty in locating some of them, particularly if walking between June and September when many of the features may be overgrown with heather.

   Follow the trail North, keeping uphill of Wistman’s Wood. There is a fairly well-defined pound at SX61378 77262 with a row of three hut circles outside the pound running in a South-Westerly direction and another hut circle in the North East corner of the pound. To the north of the pound there is a fair amount of clitter (scattered rocks), staying slightly downhill of it will lead to another trio of hut circles running South-West to North East, the centre of this trio is at SX61327 77349. Within a few dozen steps of this row is a concentration of poor conditioned hut circles which meet up with the North-Easterly edge of Wistman’s Wood. The remains of a boundary wall is visible which marks the end of discernible Bronze Age features in the vicinity. There are good views into Wistman’s Wood from this vantage point, and down into the valley below. Among the hut circles are a number of mounds which might be mistaken for prehistoric burials, however they are the remains of a 19th century rabbit warren.

   The walk now crosses the West Dart River - the route to which is often boggy even in after periods of good weather. Head toward the Weir at SX60859 77973. It is best to avoid a direct route as the low ground is almost certain to be extremely boggy for some distance. There are trails which can be clearly picked out that keep to the high ground, approaching the weir from the East, however the last metres – particularly after crossing the small wall near the weir, will be wet. If the water level is low, it may be preferable to cross at the stepping stones to the south of the weir.

   Once across the river, join the track which follows the river South alongside the leet which will be on your right. The track is narrow and in places it is prone to erosion after periods of rainfall. The route is easy enough to follow but care should be taken as it sometimes narrow and a tumble from the path might be steep in many places. Instead of following the path South, some walkers may prefer to follow a faint track South-West from the weir up to Beardown Tor, then heading south until reaching the tree line on Beardown Hill and following the line of trees East where it rejoins the track beside the leat into Beardown Farm. If remaining on the track alongside the leat there are hut circles visible at SX61069 76389 just East of the track, but the ground is steep, uneven, and the grass is long, so except for the most determined Bronze Age enthusiasts they might be best viewed from the path. As the track enters the woods by Beardown Farm the remains of a pound can be seen. The permissive track then leads through Beardown Farm and out onto the road near the Two Bridges Hotel and back to the start.

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