Lorna Doone is the tale of a young boy, John Ridd, whose father is killed by Scottish outlaws – the Doones. Exiled to a remote part of Exmoor (which is in England’s West Country and now a National Park), they rob travellers and local farms. Living amongst them is the pretty Lorna Doone, kidnapped by them as an infant. John enters the forbidden Doone Valley by climbing a steep and difficult waterfall, the ‘waterslide’, and meets Lorna for the first time. Some years later he rescues her and as they marry Lorna is shot through the window of Oare church by the wicked Carver Doone. John pursues him and after a struggle Carver perishes in a bog. Lorna recovers from her wounds and so the story has a happy ending.
But is it true? The simple answer to the question is that the answer isn’t simple. When Richard Dodderidge Blackmore wrote his historic novel in the late 1800’s he mixed fact with fiction and local legend with the names of local people.
Because the precise location of the Doone Valley is uncertain it is no longer described as such on maps, the Ordnance Survey now describing the area more accurately as Doone Country. A rewarding walk can be taken along the whole length of Badgworthy Water starting from Brendon Common by parking the car at Brendon Two Gates. Here there are wide views of both the open heather moorland and also the grass moor of the Royal Forest ‘improved’ in the nineteenth century. Badgworthy Water changes in character along its length from fast running rapids to smoother, deeper pools.
Further along the lane nestles the village of Oare and the church where Lorna and John wed. Inside is a memorial to Blackmore, a smaller copy of the one in Exeter cathedral. A memorial can also be seen to the Snow family who lived at Oare manor and also feature in Lorna Doone. It is recorded that as Blackmore didn’t write kindly of the Snows he was afterwards much disliked by them. Other local characters also existed: Tom Faggus, the highwayman was – in real life – from nearby North Molton and Ridd is still a local surname.
Oare village and church nestle in a deep combe
The Valley of Rocks