Published: Friday 19th Sep 2014
Written by: Alice de Courcy-Wheeler
As the name suggests, Exmoor in Devon is predominantly moorland, though there are vast swathes of woodland, and the entire northern edge abuts the Bristol Channel, giving you miles of sandy coastline to explore.
The first thing you should do if you’re new to the area is visit one of the three visitor centres, including those at Dulverton and Lynmouth. They will give you all the up to date information that you’ll need to get the most from your visit. From there it’s simply a choice of what you’re going to do first!
Exmoor has an embarrassment of riches for walkers to choose from with over 1,000 kms of footpaths and bridleways to tackle. These paths are of varying length, and take you through woodland, along riverbanks and across the heather clad moorland; no two walks are the same. You can explore by yourself, or take one of the many guided walks available and learn about the history and wildlife of Exmoor from an expert. If you have mobility problems there are several trails suitable for wheelchair users and families with small children, while seasoned walkers should tackle the Coleridge Way. This 51 mile path takes a journey from Nether Stowey to the east, and ends in Lynton, taking in some of the spectacular Exmoor scenery that inspired some of the Romantic poet’s best work.
If you want to cycle your way around Exmoor, the Park is full of trails for all sorts of bikers. Roadies can follow in the tyre tracks of the professionals on the Exmoor Cycle Route, which has twice made up a stage on the Tour of Britain. The 60 mile loop runs through some stunning scenery and takes in Lynmouth, Woody Bay, and Minehead, as well as the thigh burning Countisbury Hill with its daunting 1 in 4 gradient. Of course, there are also many shorter routes to tackle as well, keep an eye out for the signs and paths. And if you’re an offroader the varied landscape makes Exmoor one of the best places in the country to mountain bike. Bring your own or hire a cycle from one of the many bike shops in the area.
With Exmoor’s rich equine history, horse lovers will be in hoof heaven with seemingly endless miles of bridleway to hack. There are riding stables throughout the Park where you can hire a horse, and most centres offer tuition for all abilities.
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to get about, the next question is where to go. The Valley of the Rocks, close to Lynmouth is known as the most scenic part of Exmoor, which is saying something. Glen Lyn Gorge is a great place for you to learn about the power of water, with a discovery centre, waterfalls, and rapids. The 11th century Dunster Castle lies to the north east of the Park, or you can find Tarr Steps, a Bronze Age clapper bridge wreathed in myth and legend, in the south.
Why not fly a falcon in Combe Martin, inspire your poetic side in Heddon Valley, fish in the many rivers that gurgle across the moors, or take advantage of the big open skies when night closes in and see the stars like you’ve never seen them before? Or tackle the waters of the Exe or Lyn in a canoe or kayak, and windsurf your way across Wimbleball Lake.
When you come to Exmoor, your biggest problem will be what to leave out.