Days out: A walk on Lorna Doone's Exmoor

Moor, moor, moor. How do you like it?
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The Independent Travel

The novel "Lorna Doone" still embodies the psyche of northern Exmoor. Whether fact or fiction – the author, R D Blackmore, admitted to "wandering among the alleys of the past" – there is no doubting the sublime beauty of Doone Country, south of the A39 between Lynton and Minehead. This four-hour, eight-mile circular walk takes in Exmoor's wildest moorland.

From Malmsmead car park, just prior to Lorna Doone Farm, exit left, and cross the 17th-century pack-horse bridge. Follow the lane for three quarters of a mile to reach Oare, a tranquil hamlet. Oare's focus is the tiny St Mary's Church, where Carver shot Lorna. Look inside – the church is exquisite.

Turn right on leaving St Mary's, and immediately right again tracing a bridleway marked Larkbarrow. Ascend through several large fields before passing outside a wooded combe, keeping left of the fence. At the top left corner of the wood, turn sharply right following a signpost to Doone Valley, and go through the five-bar gate. In the field, turn right, adhering to the fence, and 50 yards later go left before a gate marked "private". Follow the hedgerow out of the field, and descend steeply to Cloud Farm. Passing through an open-sided barn, turn right, and drop down to the river.

Crossing a footbridge spanning the river, Badgworthy Water, turn left, and begin a southwards hike along the heavenly Doone Valley's Devonian western bank. After passing Blackmore's memorial stone to your right, the walk plunges into a mossy, gnarled oak woodland. Nearing the edge of these wooded banks, a tributary – Lank Combe – is crossed by a small footbridge. Local legend suggests here was the start of the real Doone Valley.

After the oak woodland peters out, the path narrows and rises higher up the valley slope. Then about half a mile beyond Lank Combe, take a sharp right through an obvious gap. If you overshoot this crucial turn-off, you immediately encounter Hoccombe brook (spanned by a plank) barring your path. Again, turn right, and head uphill away from the river.

Once through the gap, a climb begins towards Brendon Common's expansive moorland. Stick to the obviously worn paths. Ascending from the river, follow a rutted path drifting right and westwards, initially tracing a section of Devon-bank to your right. The worn path eases north-westwards uphill, eventually crossing a small stream at Badgworthy Lees. Keep following the path directly ahead, soon targeting a five-bar gate and fence-line on the horizon.

This is Exmoor's truly wild face. Pass through the gate, and follow the most distinctive path directly ahead. Gradually this develops into a trackway as it swings westwards and you are joined to your right by the impressive Lank Combe valley. Follow the track's progression down into the valley bottom, and squelch across the stream.

Faced with several worn paths opposite, choose one slightly to the right, and climb the steep valley-side for 200 yards until spotting a wooden fingerpost. Take the right fork signed Malmsmead. This well-delineated path skirts Malmsmead Hill for several miles. It will lead to a surfaced lane running east to Malmsmead. But pass through the metal gate ahead and trace a bridleway marked "Malmsmead 1" downhill, via several open fields and Southern Wood. It exits directly above the car park.

The walk is found on Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 9 – "Exmoor". It will take about four hours.

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