THE DOONE VAL­LEY

River­side walk­ing in Ex­moor’s hid­den combes can reap many birdwatching re­wards

Bird Watching (UK) - - Go Birding - SI­MONE STANBROOK-BYRNE

CEN­TURIES AGO, Ex­moor was a royal hunt­ing for­est but times change and in 1954 its 267 square miles were awarded Na­tional Park sta­tus. It strad­dles the county bound­ary be­tween Som­er­set and Devon, with the ma­jor­ity of the moor in Som­er­set. It is a re­gion of mighty con­trasts, deeply folded combes and tree-clad river val­leys con­trast­ing with wild, wind-blasted heights. This va­ri­ety of habi­tat gives rise to good bird­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Sky Lark abound and the moor’s clean, fast-flow­ing waters are great for Dip­per and Goosander. Ex­moor is home to our largest wild land mam­mal, the Red Deer, as well as the Ex­moor Pony, our old­est na­tive breed. Elu­sive Ot­ters en­joy the rivers but are sel­dom seen. The area of this walk was made fa­mous in RD Black­more’s novel, Lorna Doone, an in­trigu­ing blend of fact and fic­tion. The val­ley of Badg­wor­thy Wa­ter, along which the walk starts, is known as The Doone Val­ley where the out­lawed clan re­put­edly lived in the 17th Cen­tury. Oare Church, where book char­ac­ter Lorna Doone, was shot, can be vis­ited dur­ing the walk.

1From Malmsmead fol­low the path through pri­vate farm­land head­ing south be­side Badg­wor­thy Wa­ter (there’s a 50p toll to use this path). The boul­der-strewn, tree-flanked river ap­proach­ing Cloud Farm is good for Grey Heron, Mal­lard, Grey Wag­tail and Dip­per.

2At the Cloud Farm foot­bridge con­tinue on the same side of the river for a ‘there-and-back’ stretch. We saw Goosander and had close views of Siskin.

3After cross­ing the river the north-east­erly path to Oare Church climbs steadily. Bullfinch and Chaffinch flit be­tween dense gorse.

The path drops to his­toric Oare Church then fol­lows Oare Wa­ter on the Co­leridge Way back to Malmsmead. Through this farm­land look for Wren, Dun­nock and usual hedgerow species.

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