This walk takes about 2-3 hours and covers about 8 kilometers or 5 miles. It is a lovely hike and a great way to truly experience the landscape that comprises so much of the imagery in Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.
Of all the ways that R.D. Blackmore’s novel has effected the regions of Exmoor and Southwest England, perhaps the most obvious is the name Lorna Doone Country. This title has been given to the area where much of the novel’s action takes place. This area is mostly concentrated near the town of Oare, whose church is the site of the novel’s climax. Near this town you’ll find what was once known as Badgworthy Valley, but is now known primarily as Doone Valley, thanks to the novel. The area is rich in beauty and provides a great setting for an afternoon’s walk. It is easy to see why a novelist like Blackmore would give a place like this such romantic connotations, as the beauty of the natural landscape becomes a distinct part of the story.
Lorna Doone Country lies in the heart of Exmoor National Park in Somerset. It is an area of open moors, which are rolling infertile fields, forests, and streams. It is the only moor in England which has a coast, on the northern part. Moors are usually very wet and windy areas, so plan on taking some rain gear and warmer clothing. While the land is beautiful, it is also somewhat bleak, so don’t expect a paradise.
Part of this area’s charm is its remoteness, and while that makes for a pleasant day there it also makes it difficult to get to. None of the nearby towns are served by rail or public transportation. Your best option may be to rent a car from Taunton, the largest town nearby which can be reached by rail. From there make your way through Tiverton and Dulverton. The former is the site of John Ridd’s school, Blundell’s. From Dulverton take the B3223. Go to Exford, but before you reach it you may want to turn off to the the Tarr Steps, where Ridd visits a witch at one point in the novel.
After Exford, go toward Porlock and Cloutsam. When the road reaches its end at A39, take a left, then another left once you reach the lane leading to Oare. Be careful on this road, as it is somewhat twisty and narrow.
Oare, as you’ll see, is a very small town. The church is its most noticable landmark, standing on a hill taller than its surroundings. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, as it is officially called, is a beautiful old-fashioned church which still looks much like it did in the 19th century, with the exception of some additions. The window through which Carver Doone shoots Lorna still looks out toward the west, and from there one can see Oare House, situated where Ridd’s farm Plover’s Barrows used to be. The church also holds significance for Blackmore himself, as his grandfather was a rector there once. Today there is a plaque by the door memorializing him for his novel’s contribution to the local area.
From Oare it is a short jump to Malmsmead, home of the Lorna Doone Farm (no relation to the novel except the name), where one can do a bit of shopping. The parking lot is behind the farm, and it is paid parking. Take the posted trail behind the riding stable. The stable’s owner charges 50p to walk through his property, but if you’re lucky he won’t be around to collect.
Keeping the Badgworthy Water to the left, you’ll soon come across a stone memorial marking the centennial of the publishing of Lorna Doone. As you continue, you’ll notice the field turn into a woody area. This is Lank Coombe. This little wood is home to the famous natural water slide which John and Lorna use to escape at one point in the novel.
Continue on until you reach a footpath sign "Brendon Common 2.5 miles," where you turn right rising on to open moorland. This is Hoccombe Combe, the site of a medieval religious settlement, ruins which no doubt inspired the dwelling places of the Doones. Today it merely serves as grazing ground for sheep. Take a gently ascending track across beautiful open moorland, through a gate in a wall, then across more open ground to a ford. Soon after crossing the ford there will be two tracks heading right and left. Both will lead back to a road which will take you to Malmsmead, but the trail to the right will get you there much faster.
© Copyright Isaac Miller 2007