On the hoof- a circular Exmoor ride or walk.
By Mark Asher
As originally published in Exmoor The Country Magazine
For a ride of outstanding beauty with a variety of going-contrasts in moorland heathers and bleached grasses,a stell,farmhouse ruins,stone settings,deer,native ponies and exhaust-free Exmoor follow the route below.Aside from the actual route we have included a little history you will find along the ride.This route can also be walked.
Distance:Approximately 12 miles.
1 Start from Cattle Grid OS 835 423 just before Aldermans Barrow opposite Dunkery signpost.A rusty horseshoe on the gate post marks the start of your route!The bridleway is marked Doone Valley 3.5 miles Malmsmead 6 miles.After about two or three hundred yards you are approaching the first gate.To your left you will see a strange embankment running along the strike of the hill.These are the remnants of the old tram line that was built to take iron ore from Simonsbath to Raleghs Cross and from there down the Incline to the coast.
2 Carry on as far as gate.Go through gate and turn right along track.Signposted to Larkbarrow.Carry on along the track until the next gate.Turn left and head for the old Larkbarrow ruins amidst the trees.
3 You are now heading towards a clump of trees that marks the site of the old Larkbarrow farmstead.This group of beech trees was planted in 1820 to afford the farmstead some protection in this exposed area.The land hereabouts was formerly the property of English regents.This was not a forest of trees but open moorland used for summer grazing,hunting and at Warren Farm,rabbit breeding.The Crown disposed of the land to wealthy industrialist John Knight in 1818.The farmsteads of Toms Hill,Larkbarrow, Warren and others were created by his son Frederic and thus began the reclamation of the moorland.
4 Larkbarrow farmhouse survived until WWII when the area became an artillery range.For those of a nervous disposition,shelling has long desisted!This is a wonderful spot for a picnic.
5 Continue along track leaving Larkbarrow behind you and remain on track.In the area around Larkbarrow there are some rather special gate latches.They have a little circle for you to put your riding crop in to lift them up,and they slam shut naturally.
6 Pass through next gate,keeping to track and under a canopy of trees.A little further on one will see the ruins of Larkbarrow Cottage.It was here that Will Little,a Scottish shepherd,was tragically killed after returning from a day haymaking at Warren.The hay had to be abandoned due to a storm and Will Little wended his way home,driving two cattle before him.Within sight of his home he was struck by lightning and died on the spot.A funeral procession left the cottage,six bearers on horseback leading the way.Lord Fortescues market cart was brought into service as a hearse.Pony traps followed,carrying the mourners to his final resting place in Simonsbath.
8 Continue to next gate,signposted to Brendon and Malmsmead.Pass through this small hunting gate.Whortleberries growing on the hedge here at the time of our visit! Ahead of you now are deep valleys.These are the headwaters of Badgworthy Water of Doone Valley.If you turn right along the line of the bank for fifty yards or so you will spot three or four standing stones in a ring.Probably an Iron Age stone setting.
9 From the gate follow the track down into the valley.Off to the left you can see a few rocks and a track going up the hill on the other side of the valley.Follow the hill down the stony track,crossing the small stream just beyond the footbridge.You will see a gate on the opposite side.Turn right when youve come through the gate,going down the valley.
10 Go straight through the marshy bit.It looks worse than it is!Follow the rocky goat track.Keep following the track and through a small stream. Gate on the other side again which says Please do not touch sheep or lambs!
11 After the gate turn right and ride back towards Badgworthy Water.Dont go through the hunting gate in front of you.Turn left instead and follow the fence down stream.
12 Passing through Badgworthy now(also known as Doone Village).The cottage here was last inhabited in the 1930s.When the shepherd in residence was taken ill it was necessary to carry him the two miles to Brendon Two Gates,the nearest point the ambulance could get to the remote cottage.
13 Continue along the track down Badgworthy valley through ancient woods
of sessile oak,birch,beech,rhododendrons.A heron spotted fishing in the river here.You will pass a memorial stone to Blackmore,author of Lorna Doone,and then Cloud Farm on the other side of the river.
a.After Cloud Farm follow the track to the left,through a metal gate and through grassy fields,before emerging onto a road.Turn right.Within ¼ mile you will arrive at Malmsmead.Good opportunity for horse and human pit stop here with delicious ice creams.Horses can cool their hooves in the ford and have a drink next to the lovely old bridge.
b.Continue along road for about ½ mile to Oare Church.Take turns to hold the horses and wander into the church and see if you can find the bullet hole where Carver Doone wounded Lorna.Immediately after the church go through a wooden gate on the right.Fingerpost Larkbarrow.
c.Go up the hill with the hedge on your right and through the next gate.Continue uphill with hedge to your right.Pass through another gate onto a track with a small coppice of old firs on your right.After 100 yards or so at the edge of the coppice,the tracks make a T junction.Very important to go straight on,up the grassy hill in front of you.
d.Towards your right at the top of the hill are two gates and a silage clamp.Go through the left gate with a fingerpost and blue dot.Go left following the wire fence.
18 Halfway up the fenceline there is another gate and a fingerpost heading to Oare church with plenty of blue dots along the way.Carry on keeping the narrow bank on your left.Through these fields lovely views to the right looking back across Badgworthy Water,the skyline and the Chains-a place one MP was moved to describe as even more hostile than the Houses of Parliament!
19 Through a gateway and straight on with the bank on your left.Theres still the occasional blue dot along the fence posts to show youre going the right way.
20 Lovely canter up to the top of the field.In the top corner you see two gates,one to your left and one straight in front of you with ENP on it.Go straight through the wooden gate,onto some rough moorland type pasture.Keep in a straight line with the fence on your left.Again there are blue dots to guide you.
21 After a couple of hundred yards you come to a slight L-shaped kink in the bank with a wooden gate in it and another fingerpost that says Oare church and Larkbarrow.
22 Go through the gate and carry on in a straight line but this time with the bank on your right.Good canter here,keeping the bank on your right.
23 The bank swings away to the right here but you keep bearing straight on and right across open fields.A hundred yards ahead of you you will see a gate,a wire fence and a fingerpost to head for.If there are crops growing as there were at the time of our visit,please keep to the hedgeline,keeping it to your right.The fingerpost says Oareford to the left.Follow bridleway straight through the gate.
24 Continue straight on,right out into the centre of the field.Theres a large gatepost about fifty feet in front of you to show you are on the right track.As you are heading across this enormous grassy field keep a straight bearing.A wire fence about a hundred yards away to the left and youre just running parallel to that.In the far distance on the skyline you can see the trees around Aldermans Barrow.Just a little around to the right you can see the beech trees of Larkbarrow tucked down into a little hollow.
26 A hundred yards before the fence line where the gate is,the path cuts across the head of a small tributary diving down to your right.A wonderful herd of Exmoor ponies with seven foals were present here today.You go through a hunting gate with a fingerpost that says Bridleway.
27 You go into another piece of moorland with a wire fence on your left,following the fence all the way down.You can see in front of you a row of trees.A good landmark to head for.
28 Rejoin the track coming over Toms Hill.
29 There is a gateway on your left.Go through this gate.Fingerpost says Larkbarrow Gate 1.5 miles to the left, and the way weve just come says Bridleway Oareford 2.5 miles,Oare church 2.5 miles.To the right Brendon 5 miles,Malmsmead 4 ¼,and Doone Valley 1.
30 Retrace your steps via Larkbarrow back to Aldermans Barrow.
With thanks to Leo Martin (and horses Horace,Bonnie Lilly) of Riscombe Farm,Exford,for planning and riding the route. Leo is a member of Holidays for Horses with the Exmoor Holiday Group.
Exmoor The Country Magazine
For further details please click below to visit the Exmoor Holiday Group website www.exmoor-holidays.co.uk