If you regularly explore trails in Exmoor National Park, you cannot fail to have come across the name of Lorna Doone.
RD Blackmore’s enduring romance, Lorna Doone, first published in the 19th-century, tells the story of the Doone clan, a real family who lived in an enclosed valley on Exmoor in the 1600s.
Reviled and outcast by the villagers, the Doone clan lived in a beautiful valley to the west of Porlock, between Lynmouth and Minehead. Originally of Scottish nobility, the family were notorious brigands, lawless and rebellious, who lived by highway robbery and terrorising local families. Considered giants amongst men, it’s said that, at the age of twenty, the young men of the clan were required to stand barefoot in Sir Ensor’s door which stood 6ft 1″ high and almost 2ft wide. If their heads couldn’t touch the upper lintel, and their shoulders fill the frame, they were cast out of the family and forced to make their living in the village ‘by honest means’.
The Lorna Doone Valley is now owned and managed by The National Trust and has several walks, lots of places to visit which are beauty spots in their own right as well as being mentioned in the book, and a wealth of wildlife. There’s also the Buttery tearoom, cottages to rent and a campsite.
In RD Blackmore’s novel, the 12yr old John Ridd, while passing through the village of Dulverton on his way back to his farm, catches sight of 8yr old Lorna Doone and falls hopelessly in love with her. What follows is a poetic romance which chronicles the plight of the star cross’d lovers as the Doone’s fight to prevent John and Lorna from being together. The action is set against a backdrop of religious and social turmoil embroidered by Blackmore’s detailed descriptions of his beloved moorland.
Set right on the southern edge of Exmoor and describing itself as ‘the gateway to Exmoor’, the pretty village of Dulverton – starting point for an excellent walk – has a lovely statue of Lorna Doone (image above) right alongside its public car park and her posey of flowers is kept perpetually fresh by the villagers.
Six miles east of Lynton, is the village of Oare where (Spoiler alert! Although… can you really ‘spoil’ a novel that’s over 150yrs old?) at the 15th-century Parish church of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Lorna was shot by Carver Doone as she and John tied the knot. Visitors to the church can see a plaque dedicated to RD Blackmore, along with the window through which Lorna was shot, and a medieval piscina in the shape of a human head held in a pair of hands.