The very best of Exmoor

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Exmoor – the very name conjures up visions of wilderness, ancient battles, hawking, hunting and history.

Stretching for miles behind the North Devon and Somerset coasts it gives its name to a National Park, which includes the Brendon Hills, the East Lyn Valley, the Vale of Porlock and miles of the Bristol Channel coast.

Here you’ll find rugged cliffs, secret coves, lush river valleys, wild woods, high moorland and very few people.

The perfect place for a UK getaway.

Exmoor’s cliffs, rivers and wildlife

East from Little Hangman, Exmoor © Nigel M Stone/Exmoor NP
Walk the Hangman Hills © Nigel M Stone/Exmoor NP

Exmoor’s rocky headlands, ravines, waterfalls and towering cliffs are a designated Heritage Coast, home to mainland Britain’s highest sea cliff. Great Hangman near Combe Martin is over 1,000 feet high with an 820 foot cliff face. If that’s too scary for you, its sister cliff, Little Hangman is a mere 656 feet.

Not surprisingly Exmoor’s coastline attracts explorers, rock climbers and adventurers who trek its long and isolated trails.

Walkers on Valley of Rocks, Lynmouth © Exmoor NP
Walking the Valley of Rocks © Exmoor NP

Those of a less adventurous disposition can enjoy the quieter small harbours that dot the coastline and river mouths. Once the centre of a thriving fishing industry, they’re now full of sailing craft and non-commercial fishing boats.

With a wetter and milder climate than most of Britain, the moors are home to a wide variety of wildlife. Sheep of course graze most of the upland pastures and wild Exmoor ponies roam freely.

In the quieter areas you might spot red deer and birds include merlin, the peregrine falcon, Eurasian curlew, Dartford warbler and ring ouzel.

Exmoor Ponies © Heather Lowther/ENPA
Exmoor Ponies running free © Heather Lowther/ENPA

But beware, you may come face to face with the Beast of Exmoor.

Sightings since the 1970s have been sporadic but credible, although if it is still alive it’s incredibly elusive.

A deployment of Marine Commandos, keeping watch from covert stations for six months, failed to spot it. Described as a large cat black, tan or dark grey in colour the theory is that it is a cougar or black leopard released into the wild when a law was passed in the UK making it illegal to keep them in captivity outside zoos.

Whatever the truth of the story, the wild vastness of Exmoor has been perfect for its lonely life.

12 things you can do in Exmoor

If the rambling, rock climbing, bird-watching and sailing just isn’t enough, there are dozens of other more leisurely pursuits to follow.

The area is dotted with tiny towns and villages, each with its own particular charm.

Lynton and Lynmouth cliff railway, North Devon ©  Rosser1954/Wikimedia
Built in 1888, at 862ft, it’s the steepest fully water powered railway in the world © Rosser1954/Wikimedia

The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway connects Lynton to neighbouring Lynmouth where the East Lyn & West Lyn rivers meet.

An easy walk from Lynmouth is the Valley of the Rocks, at the mouths of the wooded gorges of the East and West Lyn rivers. With its towering cliffs it’s probably the most spectacular scenic location on Exmoor.

Robber's Bridge, Doone Valley © ENPA
Picturesque Robbers Bridge crosses Weir Water in what was once bandit country © ENPA

Between Lynmouth and Porlock, just off the A39, you’ll find the picturesque Robbers Bridge, the perfect picnic spot.

And if you need to work up an appetite first, take a stroll along the path beside Weir Water.

Porlock Weir harbour © James Walker/ENPA
Porlock Weir harbour © James Walker/ENPA

Porlock itself is a quiet coastal town with a salt marsh nature reserve and a peaceful harbour.

Watchet is a historic seaside town with a marina and is home to a carnival, which is held annually in July.

Dunster castle © JohnParsons Jr/Flickr
A former motte and bailey castle Dunster Castle is now part of the National Trust © JohnParsons, Jr/Flickr

Dunster boasts a castle, a priory, an ancient dovecote, the old yarn market, an old packhorse bridge and ancient mill. While you’re there stop off at the romantic Lover’s Bridge.

Lover's Bridge © James Walker/Exmoor NP
Lover’s Bridge © James Walker/Exmoor NP

There’s another historic packhorse bridge at Allerford. Built as a crossing over the River Aller it’s thought to be medieval in origin and is now a scheduled ancient monument.

Packhorse Bridge, Allerford Somerset © ENPA
Packhorse Bridge, Allerford Somerset © ENPA

Take the Coleridge Way, a 51 mile hiking trail from the Quantock Hills to Exmoor. Complete the whole length and earn a certificate or just dip into short sections of the well signposted route.

Coleridge Way walkers © Jon Coole, Exmoor NP
‘No I’m sure it’s this way’. Coleridge Way walkers © Jon Coole/Exmoor NP

Try stargazing. Exmoor was the first designated Dark Sky Reserve in Europe. Clear skies and low light pollution will give you a star show unlike any other.

Learn about bees. Enjoy a honey tasting session, watch a bee-keeping demo or try your hand at rolling a beeswax candle at Quince Honey farm in South Molton.

Experience traditional seaside fun at Minehead’s Victorian resort.

Star trails above Dunster Castle © Adrian Cubitt, Exmoor NP
Star trails above Dunster Castle © Adrian Cubitt/Exmoor NP

More about Exmoor

Exmoor National Park covers more than 260 square miles of the most amazing countryside – hills, coasts, woods and wild moors.

In spring the woodlands are a mass of snowdrops and bluebells – often amongst the first to show their heads in the warmer, wetter western climate.

Bluebells beside footpath, Valley of Rocks, Lynmouth © Exmoor NP
Walk amongst the bluebells, Valley of Rocks, Lynmouth © Exmoor NP

With stunning shores and romantic moors you’re sure to find something you love in Exmoor.

The woods around Porlock grow all the way to the shore forming the the single longest stretch of coastal woodland in England and Wales and its coastal heaths are a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the diversity of plant species found there.

There’s plenty of family-friendly fun to be had with beautiful beaches, museums, castles and even a dinosaur park. See Visit Exmoor website for more ideas of what to see and do.

Seaside Safari © Heather Lowther/ENPA
Exploring the shoreline © Heather Lowther/ENPA

If we’ve whetted your appetite for a stay in Exmoor, check out The Best of Exmoor’s range of holiday cottages.

Some images are public domain or reproduced under Creative Commons licence

Where to next?
Prince Regent’s Treasures
Find your perfect NGS garden
Old North Bridge to Concord

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