On a beautifully warm and sunny day Phil and I arrived at Two Bridges and parked up after a 110 mile drive from Salisbury. The small car park was pretty much full as this is a popular spot for walkers visiting Wistmans wood for the day, but we were lucky enough to find a space. After spraying our legs and gaiters with Deet to avoid getting any ticks (which are prevalent this time of the year) we did a final kit check and headed off up the track past Crockern farm. We had decided to stop off at Wistmans wood on the way to Crow Tor as we’d only ever seen photos of the place and it looked quite magical.
After about a mile we stopped off at the West Dart River and filled up our water bottles, using steri tabs to kill off any bugs. We were going to need a lot of water today as it was a hot one. Soon after we arrived at Wistmans wood, and it was just as amazing as I’d expected.
The wood stands on the moor at approximately 400 metres above sea level and is believed to be the survivor of an ancient woodland which once covered the moor around 7000 years ago. It is made up of stunted oaks, rowan, hawthorn, hazel and eared-willow. The trees are stunted and deformed due to the high winds and inclement weather that is a partof Dartmoor. These smaall trees stand amongst a massive amount of tumbledown granite boulders known locally as “clitter”. All of this is covered in a coating of mosses and lichens due to the damp environment of Dartmoor.
We stopped here for about an hour to scramble around the rocks and marvel at the twisted lichen covered branches of these wind stunted branches. I should imagine it’s even more mystical if visited in the mist and rain late in the evening. I have since read that Wistmans wood is home to a massive Adder population, so next time I may be a bit more wary when leaping around between the rocks!
We were soon on our way again, navigating over half a mile of clitter and heading towards Crow Tor. Firstly traversing a small stream near an area known as Foxholes water, we then headed up the hill towards the Tor itself.
Once we reached the top we could soon see that this was going to be an excellent little camping spot. The Tor has a natural rock which hangs over what we considered to be our granite bench. This would come in useful later when we were chilling out waiting for the sunset.
After dropping our rucksacks on the ground and clambering to the highest point to admire the excellent views we set up camp. We found a couple of relatively flat spots, pitched our tents and headed down the hill to replenish our water at a small stream which runs off of the West Dart river. The stream at the bottom of the valley was alive with midges which made their best attempt at eating us alive, so after a quick bite to eat and a spot of water filtering with the Sawyer filter we were soon back up at the Tor to avoid any more insect related blood loss.
The midges by now had decided to pester us at the Tor as well due to the lack of wind, although they weren’t quite as ferocious up here away from the water. Phil found a small plastic canister on top of the Tor which we discovered was one of the many Dartmoor “Letterboxes” this one having a rubber stamp for Crow Tor on it. I can’t deny that until we had found this we had believed we were actually on top of Higher White Tor. A bit embarrassing to say the least! This discovery however did help us get our bearings for our foray later in the afternoon to the Beardown man, a standing stone a mile or so away.
I also had an interesting find, in the mud I saw what looked like an old coin. Picking it up and giving it a bit of a clean I was convinced that I had found an ancient coin, possibly Roman. Later, once I was home and with the aid of some pencil rubbings and a magnifying glass I soon discovered that the coin was actually a George the Fifth penny from 1912. So although not a Roman coin an interesting one all the same. I like idea of somebody dropping a coin up here over a hundred years ago whilst out hunting or sheltering from the elements, only for me to pick it up whilst camping on the Tor.
We decided to go for a walk as the weather was brilliant and the Merrivale military ranges were open to the public, we headed for the Beardown man. I had been wanting to visit this prehistoric standing stone for nearly twenty years now. Having seen pictures of it but not having the appropriate camping and walking gear many years back, I’d never managed to visit it. So a couple of miles later we arrived at Devils Tor with the standing stone on the horizon. It’s an amazing standing stone that looks like a bolt of lightening turned to granite, fired into the earth by the gods of ancient times.
This Bronze age standing stone has stood out here in the wilderness for 4000 years. It stands at 542 metres above sea level making it the highest situated menhir on the moor. The stone itself is three and a half metres high and is strangely not associated with any other monuments, standing on its next to Devils Tor. A little bit of research told me that the “man” affix is derived the Celtic word “maen” meaning “stone”. So it does in fact just mean the “Beardown stone”.
Devils Tor most likely gets its name from local tales of the stone being the work of the devil ensuring people stayed clear of the area, possibly explaining why it’s still standing to this day. Phil hilariously decided to add to the atmosphere by playing his harmonica, even though he has no clue of how to do so. My attempt wasn’t any better though, but we had a laugh trying!
After spending half an hour or so at the ancient stone we wandered back down the hill to our camp site. Dinner consumed we aimlessly mooched about and sat on a nearby rocky outcrop. Phil scanned the horizon and spotted some other wild campers in the distance, who were setting up camp in the valley bottom below Wistmans wood, a couple of miles away.
I chilled out reclining on the rocks and sat in silence for a while, taking in the marvelous views down towards Two Bridges and across to the Beardown Tors.
The sun eventually started dipping below the horizon so we took refuge on our granite bench below the natural stone ledge, which gave us an excellent comfortable and sheltered spot to spend the evening. I had myself some Isle of Jura finest Scottish whisky and a bar of Famous Grouse whisky flavoured chocolate, a fine combination of tastes I must say.
The sunset cast a shadow over the Tor until it finally dipped out of sight leaving us in darkness and silence. The only sounds were those of the wind and the cattle grazing nearby.
We whiled away the remaining hours chatting, having a drink and watching the mist roll over the distant Tors and up the valley towards us, creating a wonderfully atmospheric end to the evening.
Writing about this wild camp has made me realise that this had turned out to be one of the best nights on the moor in recent years. I’ve decided that I will return as soon as possible to this wonderful and magical part of the moor.