Exploring Lydford Gorge

Last year we started our travels at the end of March, but after our winter excursions I am keen to get away earlier this year.  Lynnie is comfortable with the plan on the condition that we stay on sites with hard standings.  The sight of the Freelander and Coachman both up to their axles in mud on the first site we visited in 2016 is deeply etched in the memory.

We agree to head west and after studying the map conclude that the far side of Dartmoor is the ideal destination.  Our chosen spot is Lydford, which is betwixt and between Oakhampton and Tavistock, or as we are soon to discover known hereabouts as Oaky and Tavi.

I am not a fan of the modern trend to shorten names or use initials.  It seems to invade every aspect of our lives be it shopping with the BOGOF, or the OMG and LOL in texts, to the shortening of individuals’ names.  Why should a Foreign Secretary be known as BoJo, unless he behaves like a clown?  Come to think of it that one is apt, but in the main I am left thinking WTF.

On telling our friends where we were heading several have advised a visit to Lydford Gorge, so we make it our first outing.  When we arrived yesterday afternoon we took the dogs for a stroll through the village as far as one of the entrances to the National Trust owned gorge.

We leave our site, Lydford Caravan and Camping Park, and walk down through the village passing the Castle Inn, which we discovered last night serves a fine drop of ale, and stop next door at Lydford Castle.

Apparently there have been two castles in Lydford, the first built soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the second built close by in 1195. In 1238 Richard Earl of Cornwall (and brother of King Henry III) added more floors to the original building.  In the realm of Edward 1 the castle became a prison and was a seat of the Bloody Assizes of the “Hanging” Judge Jeffreys.

Later the castle fell into ruins but in the 18th century was restored and used as a prison.  It is now maintained by English Heritage and is free to enter.  We wander around and try to visualise what it would have been like when operational.  Undoubtedly in those days a place to avoid, but now an interesting spot to visit.

Leaving the castle and heading behind the church we reach the site of the original castle which was a Norman hillfort.

Walking back towards the road we pass a carved stone with an interesting notice reading “Vikings 997-1997. This stone was raised when the men from the North came again, this time in peace.  Erik the Red carved the runes”.

These interesting historical sites are by way of a slight detour on our way to Lydford Gorge, we soon reach an entrance at the foot of the hill.  Before entering I read all the safety information.  I am not one for steep drops and experience has shown that where there is a gorge or waterfall there will be steep sides.  Pictures showing handrails and fencing along stretches allay my fears.

There is a one-way system in operation through the gorge which is also reassuring, a bit more concerning are the signs every couple of hundred yards so you can identify your location in an emergency.  The path is broad and tree lined, I focus my eyes in front of me rather than glancing to the right, when I do I see a precipitous drop which increases the heart rate and makes the knees tremble.  But we are soon past the worst (I hope it is the worst) section.  As we go on there is the occasional bridge crossing small waterfalls flowing into the gorge.

We then cross the head of the Whitelady Waterfall, this fall is one of the main attractions of the site, from here it looks quite tranquil.

Two routes descend into the gorge, the short steep option, or the longer more gradual (but still steep) option.  We go for the latter and are rewarded by seeing the entrance to one of the mining shafts within the gorge.  There is a grill blocking access to the horizontal shaft.  Mining here is thought to date from the late 1700’s and this shaft is the longest in the gorge and thought to be used for copper mining.

On the opposite bank the area was used for tin streaming, apparently this process involved removing the topsoil to expose a layer of tin ore.  This was washed by water in channels diverted from the river to remove the silt, clay and gravel.  It was then crushed to powder, washed and melted into ingots.

Continuing along the path we soon arrive at the foot of the White Lady Waterfall.  The waterfall is where the River Burn plummets into the River Lyd it is an impressive site.

We cross the River Lyd at this point and continue on the path.  Initially it is broad and close to the river, but then it starts to narrow and cover rocky ground. Nothing too challenging.

Then as the gorge narrows so does the path and the water rushes through the rocks.  Steps with handrails secured to the rock face on our left provide security in case of a slip on the narrow path and a fall into the river thirty feet below.

To be honest this is not what I call enjoyable, especially with Crosby eager to get around every corner, restraining him whilst clinging on is not easy.  Of course, Lynnie say’s that I am exaggerating the danger and a quick search later produces no reports of serious injury in the gorge.

Pressing on we continue up the gorge, even if I wanted to there is no going back because of the one way system, and you certainly wouldn’t want to meet someone coming in the opposite direction on these narrow paths.

When we reach the path leading to what is known as the Devil’s Cauldron there is a sign saying dogs are not allowed.  I use this as an opportunity to head out of the gorge, leaving Lynnie to explore further.

The wander through the gorge has covered about three miles, not far enough to be called a walk, so on leaving the National Trust car park we turn right and walk along the road, this is part of the West Devon Way and the road is quiet and after the slow pace through the gorge we stride out.

Soon after crossing the River Burn we take a broad track on the left and follow this through a gate onto the edge of the moor, known as Black Down.  There are a network of paths and tracks across the moor, our route climbs gradually and then veers north to cross the A386 and continues on across Kinsett Down.

Here we take a path with fields on our left and the military firing range on our right and then we turn left to leave the moor through a gate.  This joins a tarmac lane leading to the main A386; at the road ahead of us is Higher Beardon.  Because of our chatting we have followed the wrong route!  The path we want to be on is a couple of hundred yards up the road.  I contemplate walking besides the road, but it is very busy with traffic moving at speed through a narrow section.

We turn and retrace ours steps back onto the moor and then turn right and follow the path that leads down to Watervale, we ford a stream and go through a gate and  are soon back besides the A386 which we cross to join a track on the far side.

This muddy track leads past Prescombe, where a couple of goats roaming around watch our progress with interest and then follow us at a safe distance along the track until they are satisfied we have left their territory.

We leave the track to join a footpath on the right, going down through woodland to a bridge over the river and then past a cottage to climb the track towards the impressive Lydford Viaduct.

Our route then continues on this track, carrying straight on at a junction of paths this brings us back to Lydford Cross and from here it is only a short stroll back to the caravan site.  We have covered eight and a half miles since setting off, it feels much further given the slow progress through the gorge earlier and the muddy conditions on the moor, but it has given us a good initial feel for the area.  We are ready for a cup of tea and Dexter and Crosby both feel they have earnt their supper.

14th March 2017

[To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map 28 – Dartmoor.]

© Two Dogs and an Awning (2017)


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