Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

The Twisted Oaks of Dartmoor

Wistman's Wood-Dartmoor

Last weekend, I finally managed a trip to Dartmoor. It had been on my ‘wish-list’ for sometime. Actually for more like seventeen-years; ever since I first read Eddie Ephraum’s book, ‘Creatiive Elements’. There was a picture of a wonderfully twisted Oak tree and a huge, gnarly granite boulder. I knew that one day I had to go and see the magic for myself, so off I went, driving the long 400 or so miles to Devon from my home in Driffield. I arrived at the ‘Two Bridges Hotel’ at around 9:00 pm, just in time for a few beers and a sandwich in front of a large and welcoming open fire.

I awoke early the next morning, rushed breakfast and headed up the valley for a mile to the edge of the Wistman’s Wood. Conditions were almost perfect, with very little wind and an overcast sky. I didn’t want sunshine; and then it started raining. I was dressed for the cold rather than the rain and the freezing water soon found it’s way through the seams of my down jacket, soaking my t-shirt underneath. I sheltered under a granite boulder for ten minutes, before just getting on with job. The rain eventually stopped and I spent an enjoyable few hours slipping and shuffling around the fantastic trees and the moss covered boulders.

Quoting from Wikipedia, Wistman’s Wood is a rare relict example of the ancient high-level woodlands of Dartmoor, and because of this it has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1964. The wood consists mainly of stunted pedunculate oak trees that grow from between moss-covered boulders and are festooned with epiphytic mosses, lichens and ferns. There are also some rowan, holly and willow trees. It also supposed to be haunted but I didn’t see any ‘Hell hounds’ during my short trip.

Twisted Oak - Wistman's Wood

Wistman's Wood-Twisted Oak

After a quick warming drink at the hotel, I drove a few short miles to Princetown for views of the infamous Dartmoor prison. Actually, HM Prison Dartmoor is now a Category C prison and houses mainly non-violent offenders and white-collar criminals. Still, it looks a foreboding place with its granite walls and barbed wire. Here’s a couple of photographs I took that afternoon:


Great Mis Tor-Dartmoor

The following day dawned sunny and bright but I was disappointed. I knew that the strong contrasty light would cause horrendous problems up at Wistman’s Wood, so I chose the soft option to explore the River Dart. I drove east through Dartmoor, re-tracing the route that I had travelled in the dark on Friday evening. I stopped to take a few photographs at Dartmeet where the granite boulders are warn smooth by the tea coloured waters of the River Dart.

River Dart at Dartmeet

A few miles further, I stopped at a lay-by at the top of a steep wooded hill. The autumn colours were absolutely stunning, so I grabbed my camera and tripod made a quick exposure and hopped over the fence to reach the bank of the river. I spent a couple of hours exploring the slippy river bank and taking the odd picture or two. I found that judicious use of my warm polariser on my 24-70 Nikon zoom, cut through the reflective glare and revealed those lush green tones of the vegetation and the quiet pools of the river. Here’s a couple of example photographs:

Autumn Road-Dartmoor


It certainly was a worthwhile trip. The weather was perfect and the autumn colours were stunning. One day, I hope to return and stay a while longer. This time, I didn’t even scratch the surface.


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4 thoughts on “The Twisted Oaks of Dartmoor

  1. Different subject matter from you this time… but so rich in atmosphere! The “flowing water” final image reminds me of the large-format monochrome work you did over in the States with Carl Weese some fifteen years or so ago.

    I remember viewing a monochrome exhibition at the Tabernacle Art Gallery in Machynlleth about 20 years ago which used that same SSSI wood as the subject… can’t recall the photographer’s name at the moment, but he was a large-format user and made beautiful prints.

    • Thanks Ed. i wish my visit could have been a little longer but I’d love to visit Dartmoor again someday. I don’t know the large format photographer but I’ll do some checking. The hotel wher I stayed at Two Bridges had some fantastic monocgrome prints from a famous local photographer, Chris Chapman. I must admit I hadn’t come across his work before but his B&W prints are superb. Some of his work dates back to the early eighties. Perhaps this was the photographer? Anyway, here’s a link

      I’d love to buy his book, Wild Goose & Riddon but at £170 it’s a bit rich for my pocket.

  2. Very atmospheric place,Tony,makes a change from photographing the wildlife,even though you photographed the prison!Looks a very eerie woodland place,very old.Liked your series of shots,well done Tony!

  3. Dear Tony,
    I work in Agora Gallery, a contemporary fine art gallery in New York. Can I send you some information about our gallery and promotional services that you might be interested in?
    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Kind regards,
    Elizabeth Duker-Gold
    PR Coordinator / Agora Gallery
    Phone: 212.226.4151 ext. 202
    Fax: 212.966.4380

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