Lorna Doone and the Sense of Place: Exmoor Coast

I’ve written about the importance of sense of place in fiction several times already. How you define your urban spaces, rural places and inspirational areas can create a vivid image in the mind of the reader. It can really help to absorb the reader into the book. I am presently reading Lorna Doone – a book set in a place I know very well and one I have come to adore: Exmoor.

Although I’ve put the book aside for the time being (having had norovirus this week and unable to concentrate on much), I will pick it up again soon. I hope to finish it before a much-needed return to Dunster at the end of the month (not on Exmoor but a place covered in the book).I have so many fond memories of Exmoor over the last 15 years or so that my last visit was utterly gutwrenching at the prospect of never going again. Luckily, I have been once and expect to start visiting more often again. Anyway.

I have so many fond memories of Exmoor over the last 15 years or so that my last visit was utterly gutwrenching at the prospect of never going again. Luckily, I have been once and expect to start visiting more often again. Anyway.

Lynton, Lynmouth and Valley of the Rocks

Visitors to Exmoor will no doubt have heard of the most famous book set there. Exmoor is a wonderful landscape, a National Park that stretches from coast to the central part of the southwest peninsula covering heath upland, steep valleys and rivers. Its landscape has inspired writers and artists for generations. Although it is a lot less rugged than Dartmoor its near neighbour to the south, it does feel rugged in places.

Here is one of my favourite pictures from the top of the High Mmoor looking towards the twin towns of Lynton (on the hill) and Lynmouth (in the valley). You can’t actually see it Lynmouth here.

Copyright MG Mason 2012

A view of Lynmouth harbour is below. These towns are visually striking on approach and lovely places to stop for a while for a photo op of the surrounding landscape.

Copyright MG Mason 2012

But to the west is a visually striking natural monument called Valley of the Rocks that rises out of soft rural landscape. No photo I have has ever done it justice and I’m not sure this visually striking image from Wwikipedia does either (no disrespect to the photographer, few pictures do it justice).

What RD Blackmore managed to do is to create a vivid description of this striking feature of the southwest landscape.

Description of Valley of Rocks in Lorna Doone

Photo by Janine Forbes, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7738417

This valley, or goyal, as we term it, being small for a valley, lies to the west of Linton, about a mile from the town perhaps, and away towards Ley Manor. Our homefolk always call it the Danes, or the Denes, which is no more, they tell me, than a hollow place, even as the word ‘den’ is. However, let that pass, for I know very little about it; but the place itself is a pretty one, though nothing to frighten anybody, unless he hath lived in a gallipot. It is a green rough-sided hollow, bending at the middle, touched with stone at either crest, and dotted here and there with slabs in and out the brambles. On the right hand is an upward crag, called by some the Castle, easy enough to scale, and giving great view of the Channel. Facing this, from the inland side and the elbow of the valley, a queer old pile of rock arises, bold behind one another, and quite enough to affright a man, if it only were ten times larger. This is called the Devil’s Cheese-ring, or the Devil’s Cheese-knife, which mean the same thing, as our fathers were used to eat their cheese from a scoop; and perhaps in old time the upmost rock (which has fallen away since I knew it) was like to such an implement, if Satan eat cheese untoasted.

But all the middle of this valley was a place to rest in; to sit and think that troubles were not, if we would not make them. To know the sea outside the hills, but never to behold it; only by the sound of waves to pity sailors labouring. Then to watch the sheltered sun, coming warmly round the turn, like a guest expected, full of gentle glow and gladness, casting shadow far away as a thing to hug itself, and awakening life from dew, and hope from every spreading bud. And then to fall asleep and dream that the fern was all asparagus.

I love Blackmore’s brilliant use of words here. His similes are as amusing as they are inspiring. But it’s the description of Valley of the Rocks as a place to “rest in; to sit and think that troubles were not, if we would not make them.” There is a wonderful sense of calm at the place, shielded from the world high above the cliff that this description too me back there once again. Such vivid description. It’s no wonder this book is so celebrated.

I will write more posts about the description in this book 🙂

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