Although not West Country born, R.D Blackmore spent much of his childhood in what has now become known as Doone Country, a peaceful corner of Exmoor.
This route takes you along the banks of Badgworthy Water, past Hoccombe and Lank Combe, both possible locations for the fictional home of Blackmore’s band of Scottish outlaws.
1. Stepping out
From the car park in Malmsmead turn left to cross Malmsmead Bridge by Lorna Doone Farm, now a gift shop. Follow the lane to Oare Church, where the villainous Carver Doone shoots Lorna on her wedding day. Some say Blackmore based the incident on the real shooting of Mary Whiddon in 1641 at Chagford on Dartmoor.
2. Robber’s Bridge
Look out for Blackmore’s memorial tablet set into the wall of the church, and names on gravestones like Ridd and Snow that echo surnames in the book. Past the church turn right through a gate, then follow the field edge uphill to another. Turn right then left uphill to a junction of paths. Bear left and follow the bridleway to a gate, then continue across the next field. In the valley behind sits Robber’s Bridge, reputedly the site of a real-life Doone robbery.
As the hill levels, go through a gate and along the left edge of several fields. Go through two gates and keep ahead on to heathland. Continue straight ahead with a hedge on your left, before going through a gate. Where the hedge ends keep ahead, then bear right through a gate.
3. Finding the flow
Walk across the middle of South Common, then downhill, bearing right and through a gate. Keep ahead for a few metres before bearing left on a rough track.
At the edge of the rushes bear left on a grassy track. Keep ahead then, after the highest point, descend gently. When the track forks keep right to a gate. Turn right downhill then, at a gate, right again on a grassy track. When the river comes into view drop downhill, then bear right over a small stream, until the track reaches a bridge and ford over Badgworthy Water.
4. Doone residency
Cross the bridge, turn right and walk downstream. Bear left over a tributary from Hoccombe Combe and go through a gate. Nearby lie the remains of a medieval village, possibly home to the real Doone family. When you meet a track on a bend, bear right then continue uphill to a T-junction. Turn right, before descending into oak woodland.
Cross a footbridge at Lank Combe, described in Lorna Doone as a “deep green valley, carved from the mountains in a perfect oval”. Here the path broadens and leaves the wood via a gate. Pass the memorial to R.D Blackmore and follow the bridleway uphill through a gate. Keep along the valley side and go through a gate, then another, onto a lane. Turn right to Malmsmead.