Many when they think of Devon, may think to the sea and the coast, Torquay and the English Rivera. Whilst it is very beautiful, it isn’t all this bountiful country has to offer, equally renowned by many for its luscious countryside, fertile pastures and undulating hills, much of which forms the quintessential bread and butter of Dartmoor National Park.
Used to visiting with a coach full of excitable young people eager to embark on their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, there are quite a few areas of Dartmoor that are still lesser known, or yet to be explored. Due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Covid-19, this is the first year I’ve journeyed to Dartmoor for myself, allowing for some much needed time getting back to nature, harking back to basics. Better still, I managed to find some time to finally visit a few places I’ve always wanted to explore, such as the enchanted and whimsical setting of Wistman’s Wood, a brisk walk up to Brent Tor’s hilltop chapel and an overdue visit to Lydford Gorge.
Lydford Gorge is owned by the National Trust and can be found just a short drive over a mile from the rural village of Lydford. Here you will also find the historic ruins of ancient castle close to the deep gorge carved out by the River Lyd, which would serve as protection. Today, only limited numbers are allowed to the gorge at any one time, with pre-booking essential, so it was relatively easy to remain socially distanced from family groups for the most part, with plenty of hand sanitiser on offer at various points along the circular trail to the towering majesty of the White Lady Waterfall.
These gushing falls hidden beneath acres of luscious forestry has been an attraction for visitors from all over since the Victorian era, allowing myth and legend to form around its origins. However, in reality it is the point where the River Lyd and Burn intercept, forcing the plummet of water into the gorge to create this magnificent natural feature.
Not only are a falls captivating to look at, but the spray derived from the impact of the water also helps to cultivate the surrounding plant-life, nurturing a temperate rainforest environment, which provides an ideal breeding ground for many varieties of moss and fern. In turn the fertile landscape creates an enchanting visual, evocative of a prehistoric scene and standing beneath the mist from the White Lady Waterfall, could lead you to believe you’re stood in an alternate realm, making it an ideal place to escape to.
What’s more, there is also a beautiful bridge crossing the river at the foot of the falls, which usually would allow you to venture on, but at present is closed to keep visitors safe. Nevertheless, I was deeply inspired by the magical surrounds, hidden deep beneath the unsuspecting hikers that graced the infamous tors far above.
Despite the limited access to much of the parkland, the circular waterfall walk made for a lovely walk in itself and due to the steep climb of the terrain, was a satisfying distance in itself (particularly if you’re bringing kids). In truth, it wasn’t until I glanced over the park map that I realised just how many walkways there were, usually on offer to explore, so I certainly think a return visit might be on the cards in future, once the site is fully reopened for business again.
Following the route of the old Great Western Railway, back up through the wild oak woodland, sadly, we didn’t quite make it back in time for the tea-room, which has reopened, but in truth that didn’t really matter, because we were preparing to hit the road again. As afternoon rolled into evening, and sun merged into ominous clouds, we would bid farewell to Dartmoor and its rural beauty once more, satisfied and refreshed by our escapades around Lydford Gorge, now with the south coast fixed within our sights.