Exmoor National Park: The Complete Guide

Exmoor National Park

Getty/ James Osmond

 

Straddling West Somerset and North Devon, the coastline of Exmoor, the highest on Britain's mainland, forms the first section of the South West Coastal Path. Here, red deer and wild ponies run free and colorful towns and villages dot the coastline, providing a number of bases to hike from. Visitors can go stargazing or try some of the local seafood in villages including Porlock, Lynton & Lynmouth, or Dunster, which has the added bonus of being near the dramatic Dunster Castle

Things to Do

exmoor national park
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Home to one of Europe’s only Dark Skies Reserves and the host of the annual Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, Exmoor is the perfect place to get out your binoculars or telescope and enjoy the display in front of you. The park also has no shortage of castles and forts to explore, with over twenty scattered in and surrounding it. Some not to miss include Dunster Castle and the Iron Age hill forts Cow Castle and Bats Castle.

With evidence of cream teas being enjoyed in Devon as far back as the eleventh century, it’s fair to say that stopping for a good scone with cream and jam would be a wise decision. In Devon, the cream typically goes on the scone before the jam, whereas in Cornwall, the opposite is more widespread—making for some friendly rivalry.

Best Hikes & Trails

  • Tarr Steps: One of the most popular walks in Exmoor, the ancient Tarr Steps is the oldest and longest ‘clapper bridge’ in the UK which is a series of heavy wooden slabs set over piles of stone. The steps are surrounded by forest and wildlife with a short and longer circular walk you can take to enjoy the woodland. An easy ramble suited to all fitness levels.
  • The Valley of the Rocks Walk: Starting in the picturesque coastal town of Lynton, this walk will take you along the stunning coastline, past Lee Abbey as you approach the towering rock formations, the most impressive being Castle Rock which towers high above the land. You can also see Mother Meldrum’s Cave said to be the home of a witch and look out for the goats that wander this area. The route there and back takes around four hours and will offer views of the Bristol Channel and South Wales on a clear day.
  • Doone Valley Circuit: A must for fans of Richard Blackmore’s novel Lorna Doone, this walk takes you around Doone Valley in Exmoor, which was home to the Doone family. Starting and ending at Lorna Doone Farm, this peaceful three-hour walk suitable for anyone with moderate fitness takes you through the peaceful landscape and babbling brooks of Exmoor. 
  • Wimbleball Lakeside Round Walk: This majestic reservoir lake is a wonderful day out whether you fancy walking, cycling, or taking out your kayak. To walk the full circumference of the lake will take around three hours but anyone short on time can also take a thirty-minute walk to the dam. The Duck Cafe next to the lake also offers light meals and drinks.
  • Dunkery and Horner Wood Circular: Starting and ending at Webbers Post car park, the Horner Wood walk takes around an hour and is suited to moderate levels of fitness though the paths can get steep and stony in places as well as slippery after rain. The walk will take you along Dunkery Hill which is the highest point in Exmoor as well as through Horner Wood where you can find sculptures among the trees and the ‘Old General’ which is through to be one of the oldest trees in Exmoor.
  • Dunster Circular: Starting at Shingle Beach, you can explore the historic village of Dunster and the impressive Dunster Castle on this two to three hours circular walk through rolling hills and woodland.
  • Two Moors Way: Traverse both of Devon’s incredible national parks on this waymarked coast to coast path from Dartmoor to Exmoor. The Two Moors Way route is 102 miles long and can easily be split for day walking with places to stay and cafes along the route.

Where to Camp

The majority of the land on Exmoor is privately owned so you will need to book a space at a campsite before pitching up your tent, however out of the way the location may seem. Luckily there are campsites to suit every time of camper from remote wilderness to glamping spots. Here are a few favourites:

  • Cloud Farm Campsite: Perfectly located in Lynton in the heart of the Doone Valley, many of the park’s best hikes are on your doorstep including the Doone Valley Circuit. They have ten electric hookups, including two for tents, and space for campers and motorhomes. There is also a shop on site and tearoom, showers, and toilets.
  • Westermill Farm: Tucked away in the heart of Exmoor National Park, this five hundred acres working farm with cattle, sheep, pigs, hens, geese and working sheepdogs has four waymarked paths around the farm each with amazing views over the park. Showers, a drying room, and a seasonal shop are available on-site, you can also bring your own horse as grazing and stabling facilities are available. You can enjoy one of their five Scandinavian style cottages or set up your tent next to your cark, no set pitches are available meaning you can pick your perfect spot. 
  • Halse Farm and Campsite: A beautiful campsite that truly feels like your out in the wilderness, perfect for stargazing, where you can see wild Exmoor ponies, red and roe deer, hares, buzzards and red kites from your tent. They have full facilities including a laundrette, showers, and WIFI. Six walking routes start and end at the farm and they provide maps for guests.

Where to Stay Nearby

Exmoor’s small towns and villages mean there's no end to the charming places to stay near and in the national park. Here are some great choices to get you started:

  • Middle Burrow: A converted seventeenth-century barn in the heart of Exmoor which makes a superb base for anyone looking to enjoy the walks and cycling of the area. Located at the foot of Dunkery, the highest point in the park, they can provide you with maps for all the best local walks. The medieval village of Dunster is just four miles away as well as Lynton and Tarr Steps. They also offer breakfast.
  • Seawood Hotel: Located in the small town of Lynton, this boutique hotel treats you to spectacular sea views which you can take full advantage of with their outdoor seating areas. Near to Valley of the Rocks and a number of other routes starting in Lynton, this is a great base for enjoying the nature of Exmoor while being located near some great restaurants and shops. The hotel offers breakfast and has an onsite bar. 
  • The Porlock Weir Hotel: Offering sea views, one of the best afternoon teas in the area, and a fine dining restaurant this is a perfect hotel for foodies and people who want to relax and focus on wellness. With guided coastal walks, yoga and other wellness sessions and numerous walks that start and end at the hotel, this is a hotel that allows you time to recharge.

How to Get There

Devon is well connected to the rest of the UK by train and can be reached from London from both Paddington and Waterloo stations. The city of Exeter makes for an excellent entry point but you can also take the train to Tiverton, Newton Abbot, Totnes, and Plymouth. The train between London and Exeter takes between two and a half to three hours.

Devon is also easily reached by car with the M5 motorway leading to Exeter with good connections from the M4. Driving from London will typically take around three and a half hours.

National Express and Megabus also offer coaches leaving London and arriving in Exeter which is ideal for budget travellers.

Once you are in Devon, the public transport network connecting you with Exmoor National Park and the towns within is extensive. The Devon bus services make it easy to get around once you're there. You can also hire a car from any of the cities, particularly near the airport and train stations for added convenience.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Exmoor holds many festivals around the year with the Exmoor Food Festival and Dark Skies Festival being one of the most popular. Checking what’s on when you visit will make sure you don’t miss out.
  • Rain is liable to fall and any moment, even during the summer so carrying a lightweight rain jacket or poncho is a good idea.