Words & Images by Duncan George
If you close your eyes and imagine a wood in a dark fairy tale, what do you see, smell and hear?
In your minds eye do twisted and sinister trees thick with moss and lichens form anthropomorphic shapes in billowing fog? Underfoot do you struggle for grip on treacherous granite boulders? Perhaps a far off stream provides an aural accompaniment with the the odd and inexplicable crack of a twig sounding ominously close. Does a dank earthy smell pervade the air?
Just to bring you back to reality, such woods do actually exist and not (just) in Transylvania or some far flung part of Asia but in the UK. On Dartmoor there are three remote high moorland copses of stunted oaks. I think there may be more in Cumbria. The one I have visited on Dartmoor many times is the best known, Wistman’s Wood. The name Wistman’s is thought to derive from wisht-man meaning haunted or pixie-led. The site is believed to have a human involvement dating back to Druid times. When seen in thick fog, in the half light of dawn or dusk it’s easy to see why much folklore and tales of the supernatural surrounds the place.
It is a fantastic location for art and photography. One of the aspects I like about it is, off-season when I tend to visit, it feels so remote. All the shots in this blog post were taken on Friday morning last week (Nov 2012) and the only other person I saw there (which is unusual in itself, normally I don’t see anyone) was an artist taking photographs to act as as a sketchbook.
Although Wistman’s isn’t hard to get to in the way that remote Scottish mountains are for example it’s still a challenging drive and hike on Dartmoor in thick fog. Twice out on the moor with visibility down to 2 metres or so I’ve lost my bearings completely and had to use a compass to reorient myself (not something I ever had to do in my previous career in media!). Normally one could rely on the sound of the West Dart River as a guide but fog deadens sound. It’s easy to understand how people can get into trouble in an environment which can quickly switch from benign to malevolent.
What draws me to the wood is the magical feel of the place. The trees whilst quite small in comparison to normal oaks are fantastically contorted with a myriad of branches, each one being completely unique. Of course every tree is unique but here whilst they share the same genealogy each looks as though penned by a different artist . Furthermore they don’t resemble those in ‘normal’ and more uniform woods and forests. Wistman’s is located on a hillside strewn with boulders and both trees and granite are coated in a carpet of moss. Some of the trees are draped in lichens as though dressed for Christmas. I’ve never seen lichens so resplendent in any other location. It used to be said that it was alive with adders although thankfully I haven’t seen any. It would be unfortunate to say the least if I set my camera down on a nest.
All text and photos copyright Duncan George.
To see more of this gentleman’s amazing photography, I urge you to go check out his website. You will not be disappointed!