THE DOONE VALLEY
Riverside walking in Exmoor’s hidden combes can reap many birdwatching rewards
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.