Sunday 11 September 2022

Lorna Doone Valley

I've now visited 237 National Trust properties in my quest to meet every NT scone in the land. If I sort the properties by how much time I spent researching the place in advance, then Lorna Doone Valley in Devon would be at the top by a long distance.

The reason for this is very simple: before I set off, I decided to read Lorna Doone, the novel. It is a very long book; 552 pages in fact.

Lorna Doone

But before I tell you about Lorna Doone the novel, I have to tell you that reading it didn't really prepare me for Lorna Doone the valley. It's very much a walking property, with lots of different routes that can take you in various directions. For example, you can walk 5 miles to the very lovely Watersmeet, or do an 8-mile loop to take in the medieval settlement of Badgworthy, which inspired the book.  

But I hadn't really appreciated any of this in advance and I hadn't left enough time to complete any of the walks. I'd already done a jaunt through the very lovely Heddon Valley earlier this morning and I was on my way to Castle Drogo, so time was a bit limited. 

Maybe a lot of people turn up clueless like me, because when I arrived a very nice NT guide was waiting in the car park to provide walking directions. He pointed up a distant hill and then, on seeing my worried face, changed his tack to something a bit easier. And so my leisurely walk took me through a field alongside the river:

Lorna Doone river

It's a really beautiful area. On my way back along the path, I took this picture below and it looks just like a painting.

If you haven't read the book and want a quick summary then I can oblige. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor was published in 1869 but is set in the late 17th century. It focuses on John Ridd, a farmer's son, whose father is murdered by the Doone family, a bunch of villains who live in an enclave in the area. John is brought home from his boarding school after the killing and on the way he happens to witness the Doones kidnapping an aristocratic young child. The child grows up as Lorna Doone. 

Later, when they are both grown up, she meets John and they begin a secret relationship. John eventually liberates Lorna from the Doones but then her true parentage is revealed and she goes to London. The story is set against the Monmouth Rebellion, where James Scott (who was Duke of Monmouth and the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II) attempted to depose his uncle, James II, from the throne. This ended in the Bloody Assizes and the beheading of James Scott. Judge Jeffreys, who led the Bloody Assizes, is featured in the book. Anyway - a lot happens during those 552 pages before you get a very dramatic ending. 

The novel is a real love letter to the area and it's fantastic that the National Trust is protecting and preserving it. You don't need to read the book to appreciate the region but it definitely helps.

Lorna Doone Valley Scone

I had really loved Heddon Valley during my first visit of the day but it had not been able to provide me with any scones. Yesterday's trip to Lundy had been sconeless as well. I was therefore feeling very anxious about Lorna Doone Valley - had National Trust scones become an endangered species? Or had I just managed to leave all the sconeless places til last? Was this project about to fizzle out?

The cafeteria at Lorna Doone Valley is called The Buttery and it's in a lovely location by the River Badgworthy. I was extremely relieved and pleased when I saw a pile of scones on the counter. My scone was pleasant enough - it was a bit heavy and possibly a little underbaked but to be honest I was just glad to see it. 

Lorna Doone Valley Scone

I later did some research on the author of Lorna Doone, one Richard Doddridge Blackmore, to find out exactly where he had lived in Exmoor. I was quite shocked to discover that although he had spent some of his childhood in Lorna Doone country, from the age of 22 he had lived in Teddington, which is just down the road from my own home. I might have to go over and find his grave and thank him for his book. I'll keep you posted if I find it. 

Lorna Doone Valley: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Handiness of RD Blackmore's final resting place: 5 out of 5

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