Exmoor National Park offers its visitors a varied landscape to explore and a sense of tranquillity while doing so. More than 620 miles of footpaths trundle past rugged rocky coastlines, wooded glens, moorland and lush river valleys.
Country lanes also wind past secluded villages, ancient churches and steep coastal cliffs. Located in southwest England in the counties of Somerset and Devon, Exmoor may feel remote, but it’s only a 2-hour drive from Bristol and 1.5-hour drive from Exeter.
Exploring Exmoor’s natural landscape can be done on land or water. Walking, cycling and horse riding are popular activities in Exmoor, which offers an excellent network of paths. There are also opportunities for canoeing around the 300 miles of named rivers in Exmoor, and local companies offer lessons or guided activities.
The beautiful surroundings and clear water of Exmoor make it a haven for fishing as well. Fishing is allowed with a permit on some rivers (East Lyn, the Barle, and the Exe) and sea fishing is possible along much of the coastline.
Particularly recommended places to explore by foot include Heddon’s Mouth, where the Heddon River reaches the coast; the Valley of Rocks, where rock outcrops have eroded into interesting shapes and created a natural gorge; and Watersmeet, where the East Lyn and Hoar Oak Water join into a cascade in a valley near Lynmouth.
Local wildlife is not to be overlooked, and Exmoor’s moorland areas (many of which are Sites of Special Scientific Interest) are rare ecosystems that are home to unusual species such as the Dartford Warblers, Stonechats and Heath Fritillary butterflies. Malmsmead is a local Natural History Centre that illustrates local wildlife, and Simonsbath is a good place to start a walking excursion and see Exmoor ponies. Other animals to watch for include horned sheep and wild red deer.
The manmade attractions of Exmoor are just as interesting as the natural landscape. Tarr Steps, found between Dulverton and Exford on the B3223, is an ancient ‘clapper’ bridge built of stone slabs. Holwell Castle at Parracombe provides evidence of Norman presence in the area. Two of the many churches in the area are also worth a visit -- Parracombe church with its Geogian interior and Culbone church, which clains to be Britain’s smallest parish church at 35 feet long. Those looking for family fun can experience Butlins Family Entertainment Resort in Minehead or the Exmoor Zoo near Barnstaple.
Lovely villages dot the Exmoor map. Porlock is a charming village on the coast with a striking ancient church and Selworthy is worth a visit to see its rows of thatched cottages. Minehead is a large major resort town built around a quay on the Bristol Channel coast and is also host to a steam railway, which runs from Minehead to Bishop’s Lydeard. Dunster’s sights include an ancient castle and a unique octagonal building that previously served as the Yarn Market that sold local cloth. Accommodation in the region is plentiful and can suit most needs, be they a luxury hotel, rustic self-catering cottage or campsite in woodland.