The National Trust has announced its acquisition of a legendary slice of Lorna Doone landscape on Exmoor made just prior to lockdown.
The 3.6-hectare (nine-acre) site includes Lorna Doone Farm and the nearby Cloud Farm campsite situated in the heart of the wild Exmoor coastal landscape which inspired the much-loved novel by R.D. Blackmore, published in 1869.
Acquired before the coronavirus crisis for £1.5 million, completion took place before the lockdown significantly affected the Trust’s finances and is likely to be the last acquisition it is able to make for quite some time. It also comes at a point when the conservation charity’s aim of providing nature, beauty and history for everyone, forever is more relevant than ever.
Set to become the gateway to Lorna Doone’s inspiring Exmoor landscape, the Trust aims to improve the facilities and open up the site to encourage more people to enjoy and benefit from spending time in nature.
The setting is hugely popular for walking, riding and cycling and is well connected by public rights of way to other National Trust places including Watersmeet, a five-mile walk along the East Lyn river, which features heavily in the novel.
The Trust already cares for some special wildlife in the area including beavers and water voles not far away on the Holnicote Estate. It has also done a lot of work to successfully entice the UK’s most endangered butterfly, the high brown fritillary, and the more common dark green fritillary back to the landscape.
April Braund, Visitor Experience Manager for the National Trust, said, “For those familiar with the book, R.D. Blackmore’s descriptions of the Exmoor landscapes of rolling hills and deep wooded valleys are at the heart of the site and visitors will have plenty to see: “a deep green valley, carved from out the mountains in a perfect oval… wooded hills swept up to the sky-line… a little river glided out from underground with a soft dark babble, unawares of daylight; then growing brighter, lapsed away, and fell into the valley.”
“We are hoping that by making this beautiful spot more accessible, we can encourage more people to connect with nature.”
Other scenes from the book that can be picked out in the landscape include:
· Badgworthy, the fictional home of the Doones is close by. It is a ruined settlement (thought to date from the twelfth century) but in the book it was where the Doones’ stone huts were ‘built on the banks of this river.’
· A seventeenth-century stone bridge over the river in Malmsmead
Kev Davies, Lead Ranger for the area said, “Britain’s wildlife is in trouble with 41 per cent of species in decline and we want to help reverse the decline in wildlife on land in our care.
“The countryside in and around the ‘Lorna Doone valley’ is a great place for seeing wildlife. There’s red deer at Watersmeet, peregrines, ancient oaks and further afield on the Holnicote Estate beavers and water voles.”
Rob Joules, General Manager for the North Devon Coast and Countryside, said, “It’s really exciting to be able to take ownership of this special place just after the 150th anniversary of the book, ensuring its future for everyone to enjoy.
“Every penny donated or spent on site will be reinvested on our land in the area, helping nature thrive and adding to the enjoyment of people.
“It’s great that visitors will be able to stay in this landscape and able to get active in the outdoors by walking along the river, up on the moor or down to the sea along the South West Coast Path.
“By diversifying our income streams on this part of Exmoor we will be able to increase the funds we spend improving access, creating amazing outdoor experiences and space for nature to thrive.”
PHOTO: Malmsmead (courtesy of the National Trust).