Friday, September 6, 2019

Exmoor National Park, England

Having recently moved back to the UK after spending the past 20 years in the USA, it is a joy to "re-discover" parts of England I have not visited for many years, and top of my list are the National Parks scattered throughout this "small" island.

The UK is home to 13 National Parks, mostly all created during the 1950's under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Exmoor National Park was the 8th park to be created, and lies in west Somerset and north Devon, in the southwest of England.

One big difference between US National Parks and UK National Parks is, UK parks are free for all to enjoy, and generally are not government owned (they are made up of working towns, privately owned lands, farms etc). The purpose of the parks is the same though, preservation and recreational enjoyment.

Typical Exmoor Landscape

Exmoor is one of the UK's smallest National Parks, only 268 square miles in area, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in diversity. There are not too many places I have visited during my travels, where in the space of a 30 minute drive you can be in a lush rainforest like valley, a dry desolate moorland, or a rugged coastline.

East Lyn River, Watersmeet

Watersmeet close to Lynmouth is probably the most visited river gorge in Exmoor National Park, and for good reason - it is stunning!. The area is managed by the National Trust, and there is the most idyllic of cafe's where the river Lyn and Hoaroak Water meet. It is the natural beauty though that draws visitors to this spot.

Waterfalls on Hoaroak Water

Another rather well visited valley is the River Barle, more precisely the Tarr Steps that span the river. These "Steps" are in fact what is classified as a Clapper Bridge, and are made up of 17 spans - the longest in the UK. The bridge is unknown in age, but is at least as old as the Tudor period (15-17c).

The ancient Tarr Steps

Exmoor is not all about landscapes and ancient bridges, but is also home to wild ponies, "Exmoor ponies". These ponies are native to the British Isles, and have lived in the area for 1000's of years. They can be spotted roaming the moorland in several areas, but Landacre Bridge is a particularly good spot.

Exmoor pony

Landacre Bridge

Exmoor National Park does include a large stretch of coastline, and also a cracking castle touching its eastern fringes. Dunster Castle is an impressive medieval fortress that sits high above the surrounding countryside, with views to the coast and hills of Exmoor. The castle is managed by the National Trust, so there is a fee to visit, but it is well worth it.

Dunster Castle

There are many spots along the Exmoor coast that are worthy of a visit: Porlock Weir, Lynmouth, Valley of Rocks, Woody Bay, but Heddon Valley gets my vote for a cracking walk. Heddon Valley lies in the western part of Exmoor, and is managed by the National Trust (paid parking), there is a great shop, cafe and pub at the start (or end) of your walk. The footpath to Heddon's mouth is relatively flat, follows the valley until you reach the "mouth".

Heddon's Mouth

Exmoor National Park surprised me: it has so much variety, peacefulness, wildlife, pristine beauty; you could be mistaken thinking you were within a huge wilderness area the size of some US parks.

Nothing beats sitting atop the moorlands watching the sun set - pure joy!.

Colourful Heather

Sun sets over Exmoor


I highly recommend a hidden gem of a B&B in Exford called "Edgcott House"; the house has lots of character, the rooms are good sized, and the breakfast choice/quality is phenomenal!.

Essential info
Exmoor National Park
The National Trust
West Somerset
North Devon
Edgcott House B&B

No comments: