Stretching for 1½ miles, the steep-sided Lydford Gorge is a spectacular chasm in the hills. At one end lies the impressive Devil’s Cauldron whirlpool, while the 30m (100ft)-high White Lady waterfall is at the other.
The gorge was naturally formed in the rocky hills over thousands of years, by the process of ‘river capture’, where one river merges with another, following gradual erosion of the rocks between the two. Today, the raging torrent runs through a deep chasm surrounded by trees.
The full walk through the gorge is around three miles and can take anything up to about two hours. But be warned: the terrain is treacherous in places, with several steep inclines and narrow, sometimes slippery paths. Walking boots are essential. However, for an easier walk and for superb views down into the gorge, take the winding upper path.
If you head along the upper path, you arrive at a fork in the track. You can either take the gentle winding route down to the riverside, or take the quick route, down 220 steep steps. Either route eventually leads to the bottom of the gorge where the River Lyd crashes and flows in spectacular fashion.
Down in the gorge, along the riverside path and past small waterfalls, the route leads to White Lady waterfall. This spectacular cascade gets its name from a local legend that says it is home to a ghostly lady. To this day, she is still occasionally spotted here, wearing a long white gown.
The gushing streams in the valley are a fantastic spectacle. The water thunders into pools from above and swirls. Then, like an avalanche, it crashes into the next pool in the river system, creating so much noise that you can hardly hear people speak over the torrent.
Part of the route through the gorge comprises wooden walkways that take you to a higher viewing point. From here, you can look down on the swirling water from above.
Continue beyond these walkways and you come to the Devil’s Cauldron, an incredible whirlpool where water gushes into the cavern, creating a wall of noise, and the sun glimpses through a crevice. It is wild and raucous inside, which is perhaps how it gained its name.
But the gorge hasn’t always been such an enchanting place for visitors. Back in the 17th century, a gang of violent thugs, known as the Gubbins, occupied the caves in the gorge. Locals and travellers stayed away, for fear of their lives. The outlaws stole sheep and terrorised their neighbours, inhabiting the gorge for many years until the law clamped down on the Gubbins and they fled the area.
Thankfully, today the gorge is a peaceful place where you can enjoy its dramatic water features and raw beauty. Just keep an eye out for the ghostly figure of the white lady.
Start at the car park in Lydford, heading south along School Road
Over the Lyd
Cross the River Lyd, then drop onto its eastern bank to join the Lydford Gorge Trail. Follow the trail for a mile. Lydford Gorge will be a sylvan delight of laurel, cherry, elm and lime trees.
You might catch a blue flash of the kingfisher or a heron lifting elegantly from the water as you encounter the impressive White Lady Waterfall. Drop down into the gorge, then return on the western bank of the river towards the Devils Cauldron.
This is the deepest gorge in south west England and incorporates some ancient oak woodland, their fresh green leaves newly unfurled. After heavy rain the river creates dramatic whirlpools known as the “Devil’s Cauldron” and fills the spectacular potholes of Tunnel Falls. Rejoin the road to return to Lydford
HOW TO GET THERE
Lydford Gorge is seven miles south of the A30, between Okehampton and Tavistock. The main entrance to the gorge is at the west end of Lydford village, but there is another entrance at the waterfall end of the gorge, near Manor Farm.