Exmoor is one of England’s smallest national parks, a soft landscape of rounded hills, splashed yellow from gorse and purple in the late summer when the heather blooms, and of deep, wooded valleys. And to add to its delights, it has the coast, adding pebble coves and sea views to its attractions, along with the many rivers that race to the sea from the high ground, slicing into the soft sandstone.
Astonishingly, for such an utterly delightful region, it’s one of England’s least visited national parks. And it’s almost on my doorstep in East Devon, with Lynmouth the end point of several long-distance footpaths. No wonder we chose it for Bradt’s summer outing in 2019.
The new edition of the Slow Guide to North Devon & Exmoor had just been published along with the companion volume of Exmoor National Park and I was bursting to show the staff some of my favourite places – with the help of two of my favourite people, local writers Gill and Alistair Campbell who can usually be found building dry-stone walls in their Porlock neighbourhood.
Porlock makes an ideal base for Exmoor exploration: a compact town of independent shops, surrounded by ridiculously picturesque villages owned by the National Trust, a network of local walks, and the sublime Bossington Hall which accommodated all 14 of us in great comfort and grandeur.
The village of Bossington is one of the most lovely in the area, and the location of the Hall means that no transport was needed for the walk along a section of the South West Coast path to the viewpoint at Hurlstone Point.
The point got its name, so legends have it, by the stones hurled in a contest between the devil (who was busy in Exmoor) and the local saint Dubricius. The saint (of course) threw his furthest, and they now recline at the top of Porlock Hill.
There was so much to see and do in the short period of time available! I wanted to show off Exmoor as a proud parent would show off its favourite child.
We were too late for the wonderful display of heather, which is one of Exmoor’s boasting points, but the sun shone (mostly), the rain kept off and staff’s exclamations were all that I needed to know it had been a success.
There had to be an overview of the moor (provided with bravado by Richard of Discovery Safaris), a cream tea (of course) from Kitnors Tea Room in Bossington, and walks led by Alistair and Gill because – as the staff well knew – I would otherwise have got lost.
Where the moor meets the sea is one of Exmoor’s slogans, and our itinerary showed off both to perfection.
We fitted a walk on the coast path – part of the 630-mile South West Coast Path – a tasting with Northmoor Gin, and a couple of miles through the woods which border the River Barle starting from the famous clapper bridge at Tarr Steps in the southern part of the moor, and ending with a meal at the outstanding Tarr Farm Inn.
All in two days. Not bad at all!