One of England’s best kept secrets and a lesser known national park, the Exmoor National Park spans 267 square miles of stunning landscapes and straddles both the fabulous regions of North Devon and West Somerset. It’s a perfect holiday destination for getting outdoors and exploring some of nature’s greatest offerings from moorland to farmland, woodlands to water. Trek, hike, drive, cycle or ride and discover some of the prettiest villages for miles as well as marvelling at Mother Nature's works in full force.
About the area
Named after the River Exe, Exmoor and its stunning national park offers something for everyone providing an amazing opportunity to travel through time. From Norman times until 1818, Exmoor was a royal forest and hunting ground reserved for kings. Nowadays visitors are free to roam the wild and untamed land with over 1000 kilometres of bridleways and footpaths to explore at whatever pace they choose. Huge open spaces with impressions of Roman forts drift into verdant woodland and flowing rivers. In pursuit of smugglers, 17th century coastguards created a coastal path; now a well-trodden way offering spectacular views from the highest cliffs, and on a clear day, views across the Bristol Channel to Wales.
Back to nature
Exmoor is truly a nature lover’s playground with endless walks, treks and cycling. But aside from the miles of beautiful landscape which you can explore for a lifetime, there is so much more to discover. The Dunster estate boasts the tallest tree in England standing at over 61 metres, and with miles of woodlands harbouring an abundance of wildlife, there’s so much exploring to be done. You can even walk the Tall Trees Trail which is suitable for all abilities.
Tackle challenging climbs on two wheels, or cover miles of bridleways on horseback. Fast flowing waters in the area provide excellent spawning ground for salmon and permit fishing is allowed on the Exe, East Lyn and the Barle as well as fantastic sea fishing along various spots on the coastline. If walking is something that you love, you also might want to read our post about some of the top walking holidays in Devon.
And when the sun goes down, on a clear night there is still so much to see. Exmoor is officially one of the UK’s stargazing sweet spots; in fact, it was the first locations in Europe to become a dark sky reserve. So after dark, and if you’re not foiled by the fog, look up and discover the beautiful drift of stars above you. For those beginners amongst you, why not print off this handy guide to take with you ... although you may need a torch to look at it!
Iconic rare-breed Exmoor ponies, Britain’s oldest breed of pony, make this region so special – find them wandering free, or outside of the winter months, you can visit the charity-run business the Exmoor Pony Centre where you can get up close to this endangered species or even take advantage of a range of riding activities.
Exmoor is also home to the largest wild red deer herd in England and has been for centuries. These magnificent creatures are a fine sight to behold. October is an exciting time to view them in their natural environment as it coincides with rutting season where bucks take to bouts of sparring to establish dominance. These can often give way to full-blown antler fights and you can take a safari to experience this true glimpse of nature. They also offer safaris for specialist photographers.
It also goes without saying that Exmoor is a perfect place for a spot of birdwatching. From birds of prey to woodland, wetland and moorland birds, bird lovers will be in their element.
Places to visit
Exmoor has so many highlights to visit. Here are a few of our favourites.
Absolutely not to be missed is the national nature reserve of Tarr Steps, a beautifully picturesque walking spot with its famous clapper bridge. From here you can take the steep climb up to Hawkridge to marvel at its tiny chapel. If you fancy a 7-mile scenic walk from Tarr Steps, head to Withypool – a quiet unspoilt village in the Barle Valley.
From Withypool there are many more walks to enjoy or take in the sights from the comfort of your car. Just over 16 miles north will take you to Lynton where you can experience the panoramic beauty of the Valley of the Rocks or the water-powered funicular railway which connects Lynton to Lynmouth.
Travelling further east along the coast will afford you some spectacular coastal views before arriving at Porlock Weir – a beautifully tranquil and peaceful little harbour tucked away just west of Porlock. And if it’s fascinating history and a slice of medieval life you’re after, make sure a visit to Dunster Castle is on your itinerary, just 10 miles east of Porlock. Finish your day out inland at Dunkery and Horner Wood National Nature Reserve – you’ll find some of the nation’s most ancient oak trees or take a hike to Dunkery Beacon and drink in the stunning views from Exmoor’s highest point.
The best Exmoor eateries
It seems to be no coincidence that at the conclusion of many of the most rewarding walks in the area, you might happen upon a great pub or tearoom: perfect for refuelling after a long day’s adventures. So many also offer the chance to sample some of Exmoor’s finest produce. If you find yourself amongst the ancient woodlands and the dramatic gorge of Watersmeet, the National Trust tearoom there is an absolute must. Otherwise experience the dog-loving Blue Ball Inn near Lynmouth which makes a perfect finishing point for many of the coastal walks in this area.
Staying in North Devon, you can enjoy a fantastic afternoon tea, canapes or exquisite evening meal at the Old Rectory Hotel in Martinhoe. Priding itself on serving some of the best local produce including Lundy crab and Exmoor venison, you can get a real taste of Exmoor here. Further indulgence can also be sought at The Coach House - a Michael Caines' restaurant found right on the edge of Exmoor National Park renowned for its award-winning food.
But if it's a decent pint and a place to rest weary paws that you're after, you can't go far wrong with The Exmoor Forest Inn which welcomes dogs and serves homemade food and real ale: an ideal spot for walkers and cyclists alike. The Black Venus Inn is also a great shout - extremely dog-friendly with rustic Devon charm and some good pub grub.
From spectacular coastal apartments on the north coast, to beautiful rural retreats and barn conversions on farmland with a plethora of scenic walks and cosy eateries, our holiday cottages offer the chance to enjoy many of the delightful towns and villages that Exmoor has to offer. Serene and tranquil at any time of the year, a stay in this charming part of the world will stay with you forever.
Whether you’re a couple with a four-legged friend looking for a dog-friendly cottage or a larger group or family after a big property, we have self-catering accommodation to suit everyone’s needs.