Walking in Lorna Doone valley
Dipping into Doone Country
By Jo Bishop
As part of BBC Radio Devon's 25 walks for 25 years series, listener Tony Chapman suggests this walk from Malmsmead on Exmoor.
There are many classic walks in Devon and surely this must be one of them – not least because of its connections with the novel Lorna Doone.
The walk starts in the pretty village of Malmsmead, which Tony describes as "the capital of Lorna Doone country".
Don't expect any urban trappings here though – a thatched shop, a tearoom and a campsite are as commercial as it gets.
Tony, who's a sprightly 83, chose the route because for him it encapsulates the experience of walking on Exmoor.
"It's a beautiful mixture of high moor and river valley," he said. "The wild moor appeals to me, so do the beautiful river valleys. And the coast of Exmoor, which is something that Dartmoor doesn't have, is quite sublime."
From the car park, head south up the tarmac lane – it's worth a slight detour to look at Badgworthy Water and the 17th century stone bridge first.
The lane rises steeply uphill for around half a mile. After crossing a cattle grid you shortly come to an obvious track leading left across the open moor.
Signposted Badgworthy Valley 3 miles, follow this track as it gently climbs and then levels out – offering fantastic views towards the North Devon coastline and on a clear day across to South Wales.
Tony Chapman heads into Doone Valley
Keep heading south to south south-west, with a bit of a U-bend at one point, until you reach a sign (at grid ref: 771 458) directing you left to the Doone Valley 2m. It also tells you you've walked 2.75 miles from Malmsmead.
Shortly, you reach a stream at Lank Combe Ford, which in dry weather is an easy step over. The path climbs up from the water and then begins to descend across the moor, passing through a gate at a boundary wall.
The path is a little less distinct, but effectively continues ahead gently down hill, becoming more defined again as it leads in to the Doone Valley at Hoccombe Combe (grid ref: 793 445).
This is the site of a medieval village, an attractive sheltered spot by the river.
"The ancients knew where to build, didn't they," said Tony. "I don't think you'd get planning permission for a house here now somehow, but it would make a nice place if you could."
There should be no difficulty with route-finding on this final section of the walk – it's all downstream, following the clear, but stony, path alongside Bagdworthy Water, passing through ancient oak woods and then into the broader valley bursting with rhododendron bushes.
Exmoor colours at Badgworthy Water
After a mile or so of walking you reach the memorial erected in 1969 to R D Blackmore, 100 years after his novel Lorna Doone was first published.
"You suspect that this is the way that in the novel Jan Ridd chased Carver Doone after the shooting on his way to Cloven Rocks, which is near Simonsbath," said Tony.
"Only half a mile from here you come to Oare Church where the dastardly deed was done by Carver Doone in shooting Lorna. People see marks on the wall and they swear they're bullet holes you know."
On the other side of the river is Cloud Farm – a campsite and riding centre with a shop and tearooms, where refreshments are usually available.
The path back to Malmsmead continues on the west bank. The official path follows higher ground on a track, but a permissive path, through a metal field gate, keeps to the river, though you may find yourself asked for a 50 pence fee by the landowner at the other end.
Many people simply choose to park at Malmsmead and take a short stroll through these fields to the Doone memorial, so expect to meet more people on the riverside section. Or this is an option for those who prefer a shorter walk.
Tony said: "I wonder if this valley would have been so popular had it not been for the book. It clearly has its own right to be popular, but I suppose its connections with Lorna Doone have really made it."
Stunning scenery, wild open moorland, panoramic views, ancient gnarled lichen-covered trees, banks of rhododendrons, and water babbling over rock, plus a tragic literary heroine – whichever way you look at this walk, it’s a classic!
last updated: 12/06/2008 at 10:43
Tony's Exmoor walk
Start/finish grid reference: SS 792 478
How to get to the start: Malmsmead is east of Lynmouth off the A39.
Distance: 6.5 miles circular route, or shorter linear route if just walking along the valley.
Duration: 2.5 to 3 hours. Allow more time if you wish to explore nearby Oare Church.
Terrain: Tarmac lane, tracks, open moorland, footpaths and field. You will need suitable walking shoes or boots, plus clothing, for the moorland section and you should carry an Ordnance Survey map – Explorer Map OL9 is recommended.
Additional information: There is a shop and tearooms in the village, also at nearby Cloud Farm campsite. There are toilets by the car park.
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