Ashton Cleave and the Oare Water

A county-border walk from one of Exmoor’s finest viewpoints, with an optional extension into ‘Doone Country’.


County Gate


2.5 miles (4kms)

262ft (80m)
1hr 15min

About the walk

This superb walk starts on the Devon–Somerset border and trips in and out of the two counties. From the start the views down the steep-sided valleys of the East Lyn and ahead up the Badgworthy Water towards the heart of the moor are breathtaking. It’s a great walk for giving you a real ‘feel’ of Exmoor, and along the sparkling East Lyn river you will be tempted to sit down and while away an hour or two in idyllic surroundings.

Doone Country

The valley of the Badgworthy Water runs through an area commonly known as ‘Doone Country’, for its links with R D Blackmore’s novel of 1869, Lorna Doone. In the story, Lorna was kidnapped by the Doones, a notorious family of outlaws said to live in Hoccombe Combe, a tributary valley. An easy 3-mile (4.8km) walk south along the river from Malmsmead leads to the site.

From 1809 to 1842 Blackmore’s grandfather was rector of the 1,000-year-old St Mary’s Church at Oare, under a mile (1.6km) to the east of Malmsmead, and it is likely that R D would have had access to parish records – he frequently uses local placenames in his novel, and at times it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Lorna was shot on the day of her wedding to Jan Ridd, and Blackmore is thought to have taken this scene from the sad but true story of Mary Whiddon in Chagford, who was shot in 1641.

Walk directions

At the far right corner of the car park, by the toposcope memorial to poet and countryman John Peel, you will find a footpath post. Take the left fork, signed ‘Brendon’, enjoying spectacular views over steep-sided Ashton Cleave and beyond to Brendon Common and Exmoor’s highest ground, The Chains (rising to just under 1,600ft/487m). Follow the narrow path above Ashton Cleave, eventually dropping to a footpath post just before a gate.

Turn sharp left downhill, signed ‘Malsmead and Oare’. The path descends steeply along the top edge of pretty oak and birch woodland to meet the East Lyn River, and continues along its left bank. Pass through a gate and along the right edge of a small meadow, then through a big gate between a high hedge and the river.

Pass through a gate by a white cottage (private: note there is no access to the lane here, and dogs should be kept on leads), cross the drive and go through another gate. The broad, grassy path passes the confluence of the Oare and Badgworthy waters – follow the Oare Water ahead.

Reach a big footbridge over the river. For the optional 0.5-mile (800m) there-and-back extension to Malmsmead, cross the footbridge and follow the path gently uphill and through a gate to a lane. Turn right to pass the drive to Cloud Farm, soon crossing 17th-century Malmsmead Bridge over the Badgworthy Water. To continue on the main the walk pass the footbridge, soon turning left away from the river, and ascending gently past a bridlepath sign.

At the next sign turn left and climb steadily uphill through gorse and bracken, eventually to pass through a gate into the car park. A dilapidated wall running down the valley side to the left marks the Devon–Somerset border. Look out also for areas of scree on the steep valley sides, resulting from intense freeze-thaw action in the underlying rock.

Additional information

Narrow moorland paths, uneven riverside path, steep final ascent

Moorland and river valley

On lead in nesting season (1 March–15 July) and at Point 3

OS Explorer OL9 Exmoor

County Gate car park (free)

County Gate car park

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About the area

Discover Devon

With magnificent coastlines, two historic cities and the world-famous Dartmoor National Park, Devon sums up all that is best about the British landscape. For centuries it has been a fashionable and much loved holiday destination – especially south Devon’s glorious English Riviera.

Close to the English Riviera lies Dartmoor, one of the south-west’s most spectacular landscapes. The National Park, which contains Dartmoor, covers 365 square miles and includes many fascinating geological features – isolated granite tors and two summits exceeding 2,000 feet among them. 

Not surprisingly, in Dartmoor the walking opportunities are enormous. Cycling in the two National Parks is also extremely popular and there is a good choice of off-road routes taking you to the heart of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Devon’s towns and cities offer stimulating alternatives to the rigours of the countryside.

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