Exmoor - A Few Ideas


Exmoor is one of Britain's smallest national parks, but none the worse for that! Straddling North Devon and west Somerset and bordering the Bristol Channel, it has scenery, wildlife and interest in abundance.

Dunster CastleWe start in Dunster, a medieval town that still reflects its past. In the centre of the broad main street is the 17th century wool market and from there we can look up at the brooding edifice of Dunster Castle on the hill above. Once the site of a timber Norman castle and then a medieval fortress, it later became a family home, having been in the Luttrell family for 600 years. From the terraced gardens there are spectacular views across the Bristol Channel towards Wales. A walk down the wooded paths to the River Avill leads to a working watermill and an ancient packhorse bridge.

Culbone ChurchMoving on from the grand house we travel to something altogether smaller, the diminutive Culbone church, reputedly the smallest church in England at just 35 feet long. The church is probably of Anglo-Saxon origin but the majority of it was constructed in the late 15th century and the tiny spire was only added in 1888. Despite being still in occasional use, the church has a second claim to fame due to its inaccessibility. Hikers on the South-West Coast Path will have no problem but visitors by road will find themselves searching for a parking space on a narrow road and then walking at least half a mile down through the woods to the church. It's a lovely walk though, and the whole experience is amplified by extra effort required to get there.

Next we can move on to celebrate two feats of Victorian engineering. In the 19th century the mines in the Brendon Hills produced a substantial quantity of high quality iron ore. However the mine owners were faced with the problem of how to get the ore down to Watchet harbour for shipment to South Wales for smelting. The geography of Exmoor was obviously a serious impediment to building a conventional railway line. Instead they built an inclined plane with a gradient of about 1 in 4 to get wagons up and down from the mines area. A steam engine at the top drew the wagons up and down by rope. There are substantial remains of the engine house and other buildings at the top of the incline and this is a great place to combine industrial archaeology with a vigorous walk. Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff RailwayThe site can be easily found by taking the B3224 westward from Raleigh's Cross and looking out for the buildings amongst the trees right beside the road.

The cliff railway that carries travellers between Lynton (on top of the cliff) and Lynmouth (down below) is entirely powered by water. No fossil fuels! Not even "green" electricity. The two carriages are linked by a cable so that as the heavier one descends it pulls the lighter one up. Water is pumped into a tank at the top and drained into the sea at the bottom. This, the world's highest and steepest (55 degrees) water-powered railway was built in 1888 and is as popular now as it was then.

Lynmouth Flood DisasterLynmouth is also testament to the power of water in an altogether different way. In August 1952 a flood raged through the village carrying with it trees and boulders that smashed everything in their path. The Memorial Hall in the centre of the village is a sobering tribute to the horror and heroism of that fateful evening. Don't be too downbeat though: enjoy the village as it now is with its quaint little harbour, fabulous coastal views, interesting shops and pubs and picturesque walks up the valleys of the East and West Lyn rivers. Marvel too at the tale of the occasion in 1899 when the Lynmouth lifeboat could not launch due to the sea conditions so the entire village came to gether to haul the lifeboat 13 miles overland to Porlock Weir to launch there and effect a rescue.

altThe open moorlands of Exmoor are the domain of of two iconic animals: the red deer and Exmoor ponies. About 20 herds of ponies roam freely on the moor. These incredibly self-sufficient creatures spend most of the year grazing on the natural vegetation, only being driven back to farms for annual health inspections each autumn. An estimated 3,000 red deer, the largest land mammal in the UK, also call the area home. They run in separate herds of hinds and stags for most of the year, only meeting up for breeding in October. This is the time of the rut and the most exciting time for deer-watching. The moor resounds with the sound of “bolving” or “belling” stags trying to sound larger and more attractive than the next chap. There are also feral goats in the Valley of the Rocks and like any upland area Exmoor has its share of free-roaming sheep and cattle that believe the road belongs to them; so take it easy when driving!

Some places to stay on Exmoor:
Kentisbury - Kentisbury Grange Hotel
Winsford - The Royal Oak
Timberscombe - The Great House
Porlock - Bossington Hall

27 Dec 2023, 17:01

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