Oare is a remote village, deep in an Exmoor Valley, two miles from the coast, which can only be reached by winding lanes. Few people would have ever heard of Oare, had it not been chosen as the dramatic location for ‘Lorna Doone’, where the tragic heroine of R.D. Blackmore’s novel is shot at her wedding.
Thousands of visitors come to the little Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oare, to reconstruct in their own mind, the scene where Carver Doone shot Lorna at the altar. It must be remembered that the church was even smaller in the 17th Century, the period in which the novel is set. It would possibly have held less than twelve people.
‘Lorna Doone’ was first published in 1869. It is a romantic tale of love and treachery during the time of James II and the Monmouth Rebellion, when there is evidence to suggest that a band of outlaws (the Doones in the novel) did settle on Exmoor, living by robbery and murder, until an uprising drove them out.
The Church of St. Mary at Oare still has a service each Sunday and is maintained as a centre for living worship. It is a puzzle as to what could have motivated the Church to be built in what must have been a wild and remote site. Obviously the roads did not exist. R.D. Blackmore used places and names familiar to him, but altered spellings and distances. He had several relatives in the area. His grandfather, John Blackmore, was Rector of Oare from 1809 to 1842. John Ridd, the hero of the novel, is associated with Badgworthy Water, which is two miles away from Oare. Another John Ridd was churchwarden at Oare as recently as 1914 to 1925.
The scenery in this remote part of Exmoor is dramatic. Oare Water cascades through the narrow valley below steep round hills, which in autumn are covered in brilliant heather. From Malmsmead and the Lorna Doone Farm, you can walk up to the Doone Valley along the river bank to a memorial to R.D. Blackmore.