Doone Valley Country Walk
A picturesque walk in the heart of Exmoor’s essential Doone Valley, inspiration for R D Blackmore’s famous novel.
Doone Country is the home of legendary outlaws known as the ‘Downes’ made famous in R D Blackmore’s impressionistic dark romance, ‘Lorna Doone’. As you walk along this quintessential Exmoor trail you will quickly see and feel how it inspired his 1869 novel.
This is the real Exmoor, and at it’s very best.
- County Gate – a great place to start your walk, in a large car park on the border of Devon & Somerset. Alternatively, you could start your walk at Malmsmead which would make this walk 1-mile shorter, and one less hill to climb on the way back to County Gate. The views from County Gate over Ashton Cleave and the East Lyn Valley are just lovely. This is also a great spot for stargazing too, Exmoor is a designated Dark Sky Reserve.
- Malmsmead – follow the path down from the car park towards Parsonage Farm crossing Oare Water at the wooden footbridge. Turn right at the road and 100 yards on the left take the farm track and follow the road towards Malmsmead Bridge. This is an ancient 17th Century packhorse bridge spanning Badgworthy Water – a natural boundary between Devon and Somerset. This area is entirely owned and carefully maintained by the National Trust. The Buttery Tearoom alongside the river is a great place to stop for tea and cake.
- Southern Wood – walk through Malmsmead and follow the road to the right, then take the stoney/grass track ‘Wood Way’ up through Southern Wood. This woodland is primarily Sessile Oak and it is said that the bones of a pre-Saxon bear were discovered here. Wander through this ancient woodland towards Southern Ball with stunning views over Brendon Common. It’s quite the climb, but worth every bead of sweat. Cross the country lane and follow the trail onwards.
- Malmsmead Hill – ahead of you will be the peak of Malmsmead Hill. The hill stands at approximately 389m / 1 276ft, not the tallest in the park but it still offers some incredible views. At this point you’re surrounding by moorland, and normally there’s not a soul to been other than grazing sheep and Exmoor Ponies. We love the silence out here, just the weather, hum of insects and bird calls.
- Lank Combe Ford – follow the trail down the hill towards Lank Combe Ford and cross over Lank Combe Water. This is real Doone country and quite literally in the middle of nowhere – it’s bliss. Follow the valley through Badgworthy Lees towards Badgworthy Hill.
- Hoccombe Combe – at the foot of Badgworthy Hill you will find ‘Lorna’s Cott’, the scant remnants of a farmhouse that once stood there, built from the ruins of a medieval village that occupied the same site. It’s easy to see how this area inspired R D Blackmore’s dark and romantic novel ‘Lorna Doone’, set in the late 17th Century about lawless clan inhabiting the wilds of Exmoor. The river running through this area is Badgworthy Water.
- Badgworthy Water – follow this small river downstream towards Malmsmead (and back to your start point). As you follow the water you will arrive at the confluence of Badgworthy Water and Lank Combe Water. These waters eventually meet Oare Water (which you may have already crossed at the start of your walk from County Gate). Oare Water then becomes the mighty East Lyn River that caused so much calamity in Lynmouth during the flood of 1952. At this junction, you will find the ‘Waterslide’ where the Lank Combe Water slips over smooth beds of sandstone in a shady ravine. And whilst it’s a beautiful sight in Spring and Summer, we love the Winter here. The branches of the ancient trees form lifelike woodland sprites and fay as the mercilessly cold rivers surge by.
- Badgworthy Wood – this ancient woodland of mostly Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) was once a coppiced area used for the production of charcoal. As you emerge from this woodland, on the way to Cloud Farm, you will see Blackmore’s Memorial – a stone and plaque immortalising the life and work of Richard Doddridge Blackmore, author of ‘Lorna Doone’.
- Cloud Farm and Oare – cross the river at Cloud Farm, now a National Trust Campsite, and head to Oare Church.
- Oare Church – this is probably one of the most sparse churches in the parish and reflects the poverty of the time. R D Blackmore’s Grandfather was the Rector of this church from 1809 to 1842. The church was the setting for the marriage of Lorna Doone in his famous novel.
- Parsonage Farm – return to via the bridleway through Parsonage Farm to either County Gate or Malmsmead to complete this long and adventurous walk.
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