A South Somerset school has visited Exmoor National Park for the 25th year running, giving thousands of students the chance to experience the landscape that inspired the world-famous romantic novel, Lorna Doone.
Students from Maiden Beech Academy, a middle school in Crewkerne, first visited Exmoor’s famous Doone Valley in October 1993, and have visited every year since. Approximately 100 Year 8 pupils attend each year, meaning the total runs into the thousands.
Guided by National Park leaders, they are taken on a walk from County Gate to Malmsmead Church to Cloud Farm, and on to the medieval ruins of the ‘Doone settlement’ – all prominent locations in the book. The return trip includes the steep climb from Badgery Water back up to County Gate, which is hard on tired legs, but remains a fun and exhilarating challenge that is remembered for years to come. During the visits, the children also have the opportunity to learn about field skills, such as river surveys, as well as map and navigation skills.
Lorna Doone was published in 1869 by R.D. Blackmore – one of the most famous British novelists of the Victorian era. The story incorporates wonderful descriptions of the most remote and rugged parts of Exmoor, as well as real events such as The Great Winter and the Monmouth Rebellion, plus folk traditions of the notorious Doone family and the highwayman Tom Faggus. It has never since been out of print.
Year 8 teacher Chris Stacey, who has been accompanying children on the visits for the past ten years, said: “The Lorna Doone books are almost worn out now, but the children so enjoy the story that the study continues. They love visiting the places described in the novel and being able to experience the wonderful landscape around the Doone Valley.”
Exmoor National Park’s Dave Gurnett, who has led all 25 of the visits, said: “It’s an incredibly atmospheric place and taking the children there makes such a difference to their understanding of the book. With just 12 per cent of UK children having never visited the countryside, we believe outdoor learning should form a vital part of every child’s education.”
Next year marks the 150th anniversary since Lorna Doone was first published, with the National Park encouraging local businesses and organisations to join in with the celebrations, planned to include a major Lorna Doone exhibition at Dulverton Heritage Centre, along with themed walks, arts events, literary sessions and a variety of other events around the National Park. Anyone interested in organising an event should contact Katrina Munro on KJMunro@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk or call 01398 322236.