11/06/2013 - 00:47



In Germany they have a word that means 'the feeling of being alone in the woods'...Waldeinsamkeit


Which, despite there being no equivalent translation into English, means a mixture of wonderful, poetic, peaceful, calm, relaxed, at one with the universe, infinite, free, loving, meditative.


There is something about being in old woodlands on one’s own – the atmosphere of which can be calm and magical in the well-lit hours  - or be beguiling and numinous  in the fading light of the end of the day, with a desire to be well out of the woods by the end of twilight.


"Among all the varied productions with which Nature has adorned the surface of the earth, none awakens our sympathies, or interests our imagination so powerfully as those venerable trees which seem to have stood the lapse of ages, silent witnesses of successive generations of man, to whose destiny they bear so touching a resemblance, alike in their budding, their prime and their decay."
(John Muir)


There are some places where I definitely feel more edgy…




Wistman’s Wood






Wistman’s Wood –  especially when the evening breezes cause a stir amongst the stunted and ancient high-moorland oaks, rowan, holly, ferns, lichens and willow that grow amongst the granite boulders.





The wood  has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1964, and is a Nature Conservation Review site. It has the classification of being a temperate rainforest - due to it's mild, moist microclimate. A diverse collection of 164 species of epiphytic lichens & mosses shroud the trres and rocks. Beware of adders if you visit, who famously love this woodland's nooks and crannies - so make sure you have walking boots or wellies on!

It is quite probable that the name of this wood derives from Wisht-man's wood, the vernacular word wisht meaning eerie or haunted.

In Devon, the Wild Hunt is said to be that of hellhounds chasing sinners, the unbaptized or those lost on the moors after dark. The dogs in the Devonshire dialect are known as wisht hounds.

This legendary hunt is particularly associated with Wistman's Wood and tales speak of the end of the hunt being at the Dewerstone where they unfortunate souls are driven off the top of the rock into the raging waters of the River Plym below. The Dewer is the Devonshire name for the Devil himself.





Dewerstone (a.k.a. Goodameavy) Woods


Dewerstone Rocks (above this wood, through which runs the River Plym) is huge crag is named after Dewer, the dreaded 'Wisht Huntsman' who in other guises is none other than Satan. Not only does Dewer terrorise the moor at night as he hunts with his dreaded pack of phantom hounds but he haunts the lofty heights of The Dewerstone. Appearing as a tall figure dressed in satanic black he would lure or chase poor unsuspecting travellers to the highest crag and then disappear leaving them to fall to their deaths straight into the waiting jaws of his spectral hounds below.

The Dewerstone Woods are near Shaugh Prior in Dartmoor National Park in Devon.

Autumn dusk...seconds after making this image below and in the knowledge that I was the only person left in this part of the wood, I saw a blurry black animal of some size racing along the hillside on the far bank... a deer, I hoped... or maybe, just maybe one of the wild cats that are said to be roaming the moors? Needless to say, despite being on the trackless side of the woods and hopping over fallen trees, I made a hasty retreat back to my car!




'Dewer's Wood'





Whitewater rapids on a steep 'torrent river', landslides, very steep banks, gorges, basic log bridges over the river, the fact its far off the beaten track, a tangible sense of the 'old world'....this remote woodland below, more than any I have visited so far, sums up for me the definition of Waldeinsamkeit....





'It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts,

as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees,

that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.'


Robert Louis Stevenson








So having started this journal with a wonderful German phrase, then I finish with a fine German quote by Hermann Hesse, that rallies us to go and connect with the sylvan entities:



"Wer mit alten Bäumen zu sprechen, ihnen zuzuhören weiß, der erfährt die Wahrheit."

("He who knows how to speak with and listen to ancient trees shall learn the truth.")





A gnarled sessile oak (Quercus petraea) in the dense Meltor Wood, in the Dart valley below Mel Tor. It's moss carpeted branches catching some transient morning light between heavy downpours of sleet, rain and hail on a winter's morning. A beguiling ancient atmosphere to this steep woodland. The low hum of the swollen river drifted up from far below.















Nezih Onur
11/06/2013 - 16:06
Amazing shots, Phil. Congrats!
Phil Hemsley
12/06/2013 - 09:43
Thank you very much for the encouraging comments Nezih :)
jon stein
12/06/2013 - 13:24
Brilliant stuff Phil - great combination of words and images. First pic of Wistman reminds me of the interior of a lung (which is what I guess, forests are really!) Interesting to learn about the Dewer too.
I agree - those Germans do the whole haunted forest thing really well!
Catch up soon, and thanks once again for the great shots of Don Judah Abrabanel...
Phil Hemsley
12/06/2013 - 15:54
Thanks very much for your encouraging thoughts on this one Jon :) I like the 'lung' anaology! Yeah the ever efficient Germans have excelled themselves with that way to describe the emotional and visceral responses to being 'alone in the forest' in one word :)

Glad you liked the portrait photos of your Troubadour alter-ego 'Don Judah Abrabanel - the dappled light seemed to fit the theme. Wish you the best of luck with your Old Occitan lyric poetry performances in Bristaol and Totnes.

Dappled light is also one of the many things I enjoy in woodland photography for sure... more on this in a future blog article!

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