From ancient castles to cliff railways, Exmoor National Park is teeming with great days out.Read more...
Exmoor National Park - The author’s take
Going Slow in Exmoor National Park
Exmoor has thus far managed to avoid mass tourism © ASC Photography, Shutterstock
It’s impossible not to go slow in Exmoor. From a practical point of view the lack of main-road access and narrow lanes discourage the vroom-vroom mentality, just as the lack of mobile-phone coverage discourages screen addiction. Moreover, the sheer delight of this heathery national park, where moor meets sea, means that visitors can’t help but take their time to absorb what they are seeing, talk to locals, indulge in a cream tea and realise that they are in one of the loveliest places in the country. And one which, somehow, has escaped mass tourism.
Of all the experiences I have encountered in this region, one stands out because it epitomises Exmoor. I had left scant time to do a newly discovered walk which I’d identified on the map as looking ideal in its combination of moor and coast, with one of my favourite churches, Trentishoe, thrown in and the hospitable Hunter’s Inn providing a base. It also looked short. It was a late September evening and I disregarded all my own advice, setting out without my hiking pole and boots. Which meant that I had to go slowly or risk an accident. No problem – I needed to spend time enjoying the smell of bracken, the sunlight on the heather, and the sight of the Mediterranean-blue sea below sheer indented cliffs. And to stop to look at birds and views through my binoculars. I walked back to my car through an ancient bit of woodland proclaimed by the National Trust to be a ‘butterfly trail’, though it was now too late to observe insect life. Indeed, it was starting to get dark and I was due to meet friends at a time already past. And, this being Exmoor, there was, of course, no mobile-phone coverage. I asked the barmaid at the busy Hunter’s Inn if I could use their landline. No problem, no charge, just friendly helpfulness.
That’s Exmoor for you.
The author’s story
Exmoor exhibits the best qualities rural England has to offer © Joop Snijder Photography, Shutterstock
Exmoor was one of the first place names I knew – it was where Moorland Mousie, hero of one of my favourite pony books, came from, and I desperately wanted an Exmoor pony. A few years later I lived the dream and rode over the huge expanse of those moors, splashing across rivers and cantering along grassy tracks through the bracken. I was hooked. Even the mist and drizzle seemed romantic and my first cream tea extraordinary. It was over 40 years before I returned with a walking group, climbing Dunkery Beacon in a sea of purple heather and picnicking beside Tarr Steps. But only when researching this book did I really start to look at this extraordinary part of the West Country. In a small area it seemed to contain everything I liked best about rural England: dramatic coastal scenery, lovely villages advertising cream teas, little churches full of ancient village art – and Exmoor ponies.
It’s a love affair that will last!