As part of our 2-for-1 offer with the National Trust, Martin Hesp has been delving into the deepest gulch in the region.
Lydford Gorge is one of the natural wonders of this region. As such, not going to see it would be something akin to a Cairo resident turning his back on the pyramids…
The lush, oak-wooded, steep-sided, river gorge is said to be the deepest in the South West – and believe me, if you stand down there close to its many rumbling river cauldrons, you will not be inclined to disagree with the claim.
What is it about a gorge that gets us all agog? Our instincts should tell us to avoid such dangerous places, yet most of us find them thrilling in some way...
The deep gut of a gorge is most certainly a place to avoid – send a deluge down the ravine at Lydford, for example, and anyone ambling about down there would be in very great peril indeed. And yet National Trust-owned Lydford Gorge is a favourite haunt of tourists and it provides a ready-made circular walk the sheer drama of which makes it one of the region's "must-sees".
There are a couple of ways to explore the gorge. You can take short walks down to see the ravine's most exciting features – or you can pace around the whole thing, which is the option I recommend. It's only three miles but – be warned – you should leave a good two hours because some of the sections are slow-going. Make sure you have good stout footwear.
Walking the entire gorge means setting out from the main entrance near the charming village of Lydford to begin your circumnavigation along the northern edge of the chasm. The path takes us along the edge of the gorge – though the trees are so thick you are for the most part unaware of the gaping abyss.
We cross small bridges here and there as we proceed west towards Watervale Wood and eventually reach the first great feature – the White Lady Waterfall.
This blusters down its upper reaches with a white hiss of enthusiasm before its final leap into thin air. We cross over a bridge and proceed down what must be one of the longest flights of steps anywhere in the Westcountry – down, until we are re-introduced to the White Lady and we can see her in full plummet. The single torrent that crashes to the bottom where the stream joins the Lyd must be all of 90 or 100 feet.
There's a legend which claims that if a person falls into the waterfall, then he or she shall be rescued by a mysterious white lady who appears out of the mists. That person will never die from drowning, says the tale, but quite frankly anyone falling into that torrent would expire there and then.
Now we turn right to make our way along the tiny path that threads its way up river. In places the trust has built impressive raised wooden trails that take you, dizzily, above boiling potholes some 20 or 30 feet below.
At Tunnel Falls the trail is particularly awesome, with cliffs rising just feet apart. Lady, male and hart's tongue ferns are all plants that you'll see down in the depths of the ravine and you might spot rarer specimens such as pink purslane.
The waterside section ends with a bang – or a roar at least – at the incredible Devil's Cauldron. It's a 50ft deep cylinder – a dark, dripping void into which the river pours through a thin groove. The trust has erected a catwalk so that one person at a time can enter this savage and frightening space. The catwalk sways as you cross it, and the water boils angrily just beneath your feet. It is as exciting a riverine scene as any you will see in England.
And then it's up and out, into the clear west Dartmoor light – armed with the sense of relief that you have survived an afternoon mucking about in Devon's deepest dell.