Exmoor National Park
Exmoor earned National Park status in 1954 and is named after its main river, the River Exe, whose source is near Simonsbath, Somerset.
Most of the 267 square miles(693 km²) of Exmoor is open heath and moorland. The highest point on Exmoor is Dunkery Beacon, at 1704 ft (519 m), also the highest point in Somerset.
Exmoor has 34 miles (55 km) of dramatic coastline including the highest sea cliffs in England. The South West Coast Path passes along these cliffs and was voted Britain's favourite trail in 2006.
Flora and fauna
Some moors are covered by a variety of grasses and sedges, while others are dominated by heather. Land is mainly used for livestock, although there are some areas which are cultivated such as the Brendon Hills.
Sheep have grazed on the moors for more than 3000 years and traditional breeds include Exmoor Horn, Cheviot and Whiteface Dartmoor and Greyface Dartmoor sheep. Devon red cattle are also farmed in the area.
Exmoor ponies can be seen roaming freely on the moors. They are a race rather than a breed of pony, and are the closest breed remaining in Europe to Wild Horses. The ponies are rounded up once a year to be marked and checked over.
Red deer have a stronghold on the moor and can be seen on quiet hillsides in remote areas, particularly in the early morning.
The famous Beast of Exmoor is reputed to haunt the moor, with many sightings since the 1960s. It is possibly a Cougar or Black Leopard which was released sometime in the 1960s or 1970s after a law passed making it illegal for them to be kept in captivity outside zoos. It has been blamed for many sheep kills over the years.
The moorland habitat is also home to hundreds of species of birds and insects. Birds seen on the moor include Merlin, Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Curlew, European Stonechat, Dipper, Dartford Warbler and Ring Ouzel.
The closest stations are Tiverton Parkway, Taunton and Barnstaple.
Buses to the edges of the national park are plentiful. There are regular buses from Taunton to Dulverton, the 25B, and Minehead, the 28. From Barnstaple there are regular buses to Lynton & Lymouth.
The Valley of Rocks. A short walk from Lynton either via high up along the coast path or inland. Well known for its dramatic geology, coastline and herds of wild goats.
Villages below are in the county of Somerset unless otherwise stated.
- Brendon' (Devon) - in 'Lorna Doone' country.
- Dulverton - a large and attractive village on the River Barle. Often called the "gateway to Exmoor. It is filled with old fashioned cottages with some modern housing on the outskirts of the village.
- Dunster - retains a central yarn market building and has a castle above the village.
- Lynton and Lynmouth (Devon) - hillside and coastal villages with a funicular between them.
- Oare - centre of 'Lorna Doone' country, where Carver Doone shot Lorna in the church on her wedding day with John Ridd.
- Porlock - large village with picturesque houses.
- Porlock Weir - delightful coastal village and the start of a superb 5 mile cliff walk to Culbone Church
- Selworthy - tiny but one of the most striking. Thatched cottages around the green, a fine church and great views from Selworthy Beacon.
- Winsford - fine inland village, where a small tributary joins the River Exe with a thatched pub and numerous bridges.
Other beauty spots
- Dunkery Beacon
- Doone Valley
- Tarr Steps' - a clapper bridge on the Barle near Dulverton.
- Valley of Rocks (Devon) - spectacular clifftop road from Lynton - not a valley in the normal sense.
- Watersmeet (Devon) - where the East and West Lyn meet.
Plenty of Somerset produced local food and drink, boxes of fudge and clotted cream are always popular.
- Coleridge Way Holiday Cottages, Windwhistle Farm, Treborough, ☎ +44 1984 640582, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Heddon's Gate Hotel (A tranquil country house hotel set on the steep slopes of the wooded Heddon Valley), Martinhoe, Parracombe, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 4PZ, ☎ +44 1598 763481, e-mail: email@example.com. Half board £75 - £101 pppn.