Thursday, 30 June 2016

Lydford Gorge

White Lady Waterfall
This is a bit of a walk with a difference for it is the only one on this blog that you actually have to pay for.  Lydford Gorge is walk number 1 in the Pathfinder Guide volume 26 Dartmoor Walks and is the main route through the National Trust property.  We have a membership so it didn't cost us directly but be prepared to pay an entrance fee if you don't have a membership.  We had this rather nasty surprise approximately 20 years ago when my wife and I did this walk as young students on a day trip from Plymouth.  Being fairly poor we hadn't expected to pay to get in, but we did bite the bullet and do it.  For us then this was a bit of a trip down memory lane although we had forgotten most of the walk in the intervening years.

Money Mushroom
Lydford is at the southern end of the Granite Way and after some deserved refreshment on finishing the outward stretch of the ride we embarked on the short walk around the gorge.  What was immediately obvious this time was that we would not have the gorge largely to ourselves as we had done back in 1995.  If I recall that wasn't such a great day weather-wise and so most people didn't bother coming.  The same couldn't be said about this sunny and warm bank holiday - it was glorious and the crowds were out as a result.

The first part of the walk is along the top of the gorge.  This makes pretty easy walking through delightful woodland and it has to be said that we picked just about the best time of the year to come as the flowers were all out in full song (maybe a couple of weeks too late?).  Ramsons were plentiful and the bluebells were finishing up, while there were plenty of greater stitchwort buttercups and Red campion.  It certainly made for a pretty palette.  The trees had mostly filled out with foliage now and summer seemed to be in full swing.

Railway Bridge
The first inkling of how busy the path was going to get was about a mile in when we started to hit traffic.  A lot of families were out walking and they started bunching up as either the children stopped to look at stuff or the large groups were simply walking at different speeds and needed to allow each other to catch up.  Luckily we passed most of them quite quickly and found ourselves at the other entrance.  We headed through the gate so that we could look at the tea shop but that too was rammed and so we decided to press on.

Descending into the Gorge
In order to leave via this entrance we passed under a railway bridge.  My edition of the Pathfinder Guide dates from 1989 and the included map shows that the line is still operating - must be a very old map for this former Great Western line to Launceston closed at the end of 1962!  This isn't the same line as the one followed by the Granite Way but would have met up just to the south of Lydford.  Unlike the Granite Way route this isn't one that is ever likely to reopen and the short stretch in this area is now just a footpath.

Our high level route came to an end at the railway.  In order to continue on our way we had to descend the steep valley side into the bottom of the gorge.  This was quite a tricky descent not made any easier by lots of people making their way down to the most famous feature of the Gorge; the White Lady waterfall.  This 100 foot waterfall drops dramatically into the gorge below and is probably the feature that most people come to see.  Ironically when we came before this was the only place in the entire gorge where we actually saw someone - a chap who took our picture.  Sadly I haven't come across that picture in years.  Probably tucked away in a drawer somewhere.  This time the scene could not be more different - there was quite the throng at the bottom of the waterfall!

End of the Bluebells
We hung around for a short while but taking pictures with no people in shot was nigh on impossible especially because one young couple seemed to be hogging the limelight and the girl was modelling all sorts of poses in front of the waterfall.  I was sort of amused at first but then got irritated as they clearly had no thought of anyone else wanting to take pictures without them in shot.

We continued on our way along the gorge at river level.  The River Burn cuts a tortuous route through the valley and in places the footpath has to take boardwalks in order to negotiate the steep sided valley.  It also meant that there was soon a lengthy traffic jam of walkers, mostly on account of people not really used to the rigours of such terrain taking things very slowly and deliberately in order not to have an accident.  Perhaps this was a very good thing but nonetheless it was aggravating that the slow coaches didn't step aside for us sure footed mountain goats...

Narrow Gorge
Despite the frustration of walking under such conditions it was easy to see why the gorge is so popular.  The river is full of interest at all times as it has carved out its channel in the rock, creating mini waterfalls and rapids as it heads downstream.  The walking was most interesting as we negotiated our way around the tight corners and through tunnels and across boardwalks.  In the river itself were scores of brown trout.  They must have an energetic life battling against the current.

Devil's Cauldron
Eventually we made our way to the Devil's Cauldron, a remarkable feature created as the river has drilled its way through the rock creating a hollow that is tens of feet deep.  A short walkway allowed us to inspect in more detail and it was incredible to see how much power the river had here.  This was also the point at which we started to head uphill quite sharply and we soon came upon the bridge that we had cycled over to get to the visitor centre.

Tucker's Pool
Before finishing the walk we decided to head along the river valley a little way more to Tuckers Pool, a delightful little oasis beyond the reach of most of the day trippers and principally because it is a bit of extra mileage without any real purpose.  When we got as far as we could we took the opportunity to dip our toes in the water.  It was toe-curlingly cold but very welcome and refreshing.  We retraced our steps and climbed back up to the visitor centre.  By now hoards more people were heading in - I think we could have had even more congestion.  The numbers of people coming here clearly show the wisdom of having a one-way system.  If you decide to do this walk yourself - be warned, it is a seriously popular place!  Our journey wasn't quite over though - we headed back to Okehampton on our bikes :)

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