If you’ve ever read about Dartmoor National Park in the south of Devon, you’ve probably come across some mention of the fabled beast. Said to roam the moors at night, for decades travelers have feared to cross its path. Many swore it was a hound straight from hell, while later skeptics suggest a big cat escaped from the circus and gave rise to the tales. Having heard the legends around the turn of the 20th century, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spent time on the haunting, windswept moors of Dartmoor before he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles. Even in the daylight, it’s easy to see why wild tales sprung up from such a barren, craggy landscape. The moors radiate loneliness, and even today, I certainly wouldn’t want to traverse this landscape by foot after sundown.
Andy and I made our way south from Bideford one morning, having borrowed Adrian and Pat’s car for the day. We neared the moors, and the road became narrow and crowded by hedges and trees.
Our first stop-off was Brent Tor. The various hills of Dartmoor are all referred to as tors, and this one is home to the 13th Church of St Michel.
We scrambled our way up the tor as the surrounding farmland spread out beneath us. Livestock and farmhouses dotted the green fields like a patchwork quilt that stretched out toward the hazy horizon.
The church itself was undergoing renovations, but I’m sure it’s an impressive sight when uncovered.
In the distance, we could just make out the rising moors of the national park.
A few lonely graves dotted the hilltop beside the church.
The quiet beauty of this spot was wonderful, but we had a lot planned for the day, so we returned to our car for the drive to Dartmoor.
Our next destination was Wistman’s Wood, the fabled home of the beast itself. This gnarled, twisted ancient forest has spawned endless myths, and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.
The path took us past a farm, where they luckily had a border collie puppy to ward off the beast on dark nights.
We then found ourselves on open moorland, trying desperately to determine which path would take us to Wistman’s Wood. Luckily, we spotted the dark hulk of the forest in the distance, so we were able to make our way in the right direction.
The nearby sheep seemed unfazed by our presence, although if they’ve seen the beast, we’re just small potatoes.
This sheep seems to think its some sort of coquettish model.
As we walked along the muddy track, we may have found our first solid sign of the beast.
Ok, ok. Probably just “a” beast, not “the” beast.
Soon enough, we found ourselves on the eve of the centuries-old oak forest of Wistman’s Wood.
I think Tolkien would have been a fan of this spot. Andy and I sure were.
Of course, I had to do my best beast impression. Terrifying, right?
Thank you to my wonderful companion for yet again catering to my photographic whims. These next two are my favorites.
Since I’m usually behind the lens, it’s nice to be featured once in a while, especially in a setting like this!
We definitely had to watch our footing while traipsing through the wood, but it was more than worth it. What an otherworldly place! In the shade of the twisted oaks, it was even easier to picture how terrifying this forest would seem at night to a lone traveler forced to pass close by, with nothing but a meagre lamp to guide them. Surely, on the right type of windy night, any noises could easily be interpreted as the malicious howls of a demonic beast.
Did Andy spot the beast?
No, no beast. Just a false alarm.
We climbed out of the fairytale (nightmare?) forest of Wistman’s Wood and back onto the vast moors. The oakwood really does seem an anomaly amidst such an open landscape, but apparently Darmoor was once completely covered by an ancient forest.
Having braved the lair of the beast with not a single scratch or claw-mark to show for it, we happily returned to the car for lunch and a warm thermos of tea.
As we continued along and drove the road atop the moors, we spotted some wild Dartmoor ponies.
This foal and mother were incredibly sweet.
A bus neared as the ponies crossed the road, but I’m sure the drivers are more than used to this sight.
Safely on the other side of the road, the foal frolicked about on its gangly legs before returning to nuzzle its mother.
Now, these are some Dartmoor beasts that won’t give me nightmares.
Dartmoor is just too vast and dynamic to cover in one post, so join me again for part two very soon! Will we find the beast?! You’ll just have to wait and see.