Boasting to be the deepest gorge in the South-West, Lydford Gorge truly has the wow factor. With the grey slate paths and twisting trails taking you up high and down low, the area is definitely one for the outstanding natural beauty awards list. It really isn’t of any surprise to learn that the gorge has been inspiring artists and writers for centuries, and many a myth and legend has been founded due to its picturesque scenery and tranquil magical feel.
Lydford Gorge was created over 11,500 years ago – but what was on site previously dates back millions of years earlier.
We had chosen the gorge as our family day out this weekend, specifically because dogs are welcomed (on leads at all times), so Milo was able to come with us. As members of the National Trust, our entry cost was covered by the membership fees. (I highly recommend joining, you get your money’s worth within just a few visits).
We arrived at the car park just as the heavens opened, but we were determined not to be put off by the typical British weather and to make the most of the day regardless. Fortunately our journey started off with strolling through the woodland area where only trees can be seen in all directions. Here we were sheltered from the rainfall and could walk unhindered with very little of the wet stuff able to reach us.
At this stage the paths are easy to navigate, although uphill at times, they are wide and mostly easy underfoot. We strolled aghast at natures stunning beauty, listening to the merry chirruping of the birds accompanying us on our way, and chattering together, excited about what would be revealed ahead.
There is something really quite special about the area, it has such a tranquil, dare I say magical feeling to it. You can quite imagine fairies and pixies playing hide and seek amongst the ancient tree trunks. We decided that this must be the fairyland castle, just look at all those doorways!
Continuing to follow the trail, we came to a sign with a choice of pathways – an easier to negotiate walking route, or the harder and steeper walk. We chose the latter which we thankfully didn’t end up regretting.
We loved the flora and fauna we witnessed.
And still we had the birdsong accompaniment as we took everything in.
The trail marched us down to the depths of the famous Whitelady Waterfall, which stands at an incredible 28.2 metres. high.
It was here we stayed for a while, basking in it’s natural glory and trying to capture it’s physical wow in photographs.
Some believe that the Whitelady name comes from a haunting spirit that roams the waterfall base dressed in a long white flowing gown. Others suggest that the name instead comes about due to the cascade of water resembling a woman’s white wedding dress.
Lee went to great lengths to try get the perfect angle, his feet and trousers got rather soggy!
Whilst I was the sensible one, choosing to keep my feet dry and remain on the path!
The waterfall contributes to the rainforest-like feeling around the gorge, and the moist climate allows the abundant ferns and mosses to flourish. The children thought the area was reminiscent of scenes from Jurassic Park at times, with the larger than average plants – we kept on the look out for a terrifying T-Rex looking for an easy meal or a Pterodactyl flying overhead.
Continuing on the trail – which takes the form of a circular loop – at this point you cross a bridge (a bouncy one much to the children’s delight!) – and feel almost as if you are turning back on yourself for a walk along the river.
This section is truly delightful, with moss covered giant rocks and rippling cascades all along the route. Taisia and Amara were very much in their element here, like mini-explorers leading the way and pointing out all that their little selves could see.
Throughout our walk, we noticed a couple of logs that were studded with vast amounts of coins.
This is a tradition dating back to the 1700’s known as the ‘wishing tree’ and is thought to bring good luck or grant wishes – rather like the traditional wishing well. Some believe that by embedding a piece of metal (usually a coin) into a tree, it could help those that were unwell by transferring the illness into the tree. It is also said that the coins were embedded by travellers, as payment for safe travel through the land of the pixies.
Venturing on, the path becomes very narrow – quite disconcerting at points – but I was so proud of the way the youngest girls coped. Taisia usually has a fear of heights, but here she was clambering up the (at times extremely) narrow walkways and stairs like a pro.
I admit that at times my heart was racing ten to the dozen. There is something about having full responsibility for the safety of others during seemingly treacherous conditions that makes me almost hyperventilate!
Eventually we reached the sign and stairs that take you down to the area known as the Devil’s Cauldron. Here we had to take turns to visit as the sign shows no dogs are allowed here due to unsuitable paths. We were aware of this already thanks to the information on the website, and the lovely man on the desk on entry also mentioned it. Lee went ahead first with Taisia and Callum, then I passed Milo’s lead on to Callum so that I too could venture down the stairs accompanied by Amara and Tiegan.
Oh my goodness, here my heart felt like it really would burst from my chest it was beating so fast. As you venture down a set of what feels like a reasonably normal set of stairs, with a wire barrier between you and the deep drop to the water – you come to a small gate. Through that gate is a short series of narrow steps – completely barrier free (although a hand rail is provided at wall side).
I was determined to put on a brave display. Amara was with me after all and I could sense her natural apprehension. I was determined to show that although nerves are a good way to judge if we should do something, in this case there there was nothing to fear as long as we kept to the wall side and were careful – although I’m sure my shaking legs would have demonstrated I was feeling anything but safe! But we made it down, and oh my goodness – we had another wow moment.
The photograph really doesn’t do it any justice.
Heading back up seemed easier – I guess because you don’t have to look down!
And there our Lydford Gorge adventure almost drew to a close, although before leaving we did stop off at the cafe for refreshments (I can highly recommend the coconut and fruit flapjacks!). Long before this the rain had ceased so we sat outside, and were rewarded by a lovely show of five or six red-tinged squirrels playing around the bird feeders. Yet another of nature’s gifts to make our hearts sing today.
A quick visit to the shop to purchase the guide book and a book about Ancient Dartmoor (and two new cuddly toy friends for the youngest wild things), and we headed for home. Filled with fresh air, awed by natures wonder, and tired!