Exmoor National Park guide: where to go, places to stay and best walks

Discover the history of Exmoor with our national park guide, including best towns and villages to visit, walks and places to stay.

Heather on Exmoor National Park

Here is our guide to Exmoor National Park, including history of the park, best places to stay, moorland and coastal walks and days out.

A wild expanse of open moorland, woodland and rivers, plus a spectacular coastline, Exmoor was designated as a national park in 1954. It comprises 267 miles of moorland, coastal cliffs, river valleys and woodland and shares land with two counties, Somerset (71%) and Devon (29%).

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There are a number of attractive towns and villages in the park, all of which offer a great selection of places to stay, eat and explore, including Lynton and Lynmouth, Dulverton, Porlock and Dunster.

Exmoor pony
Exmoor ponies roaming wild over the heather carpeted moors in late summer, Exmoor National Park, Somerset, England ©Getty

Facts about Exmoor

  1. The highest point in the park is Dunkery Beacon 519m (1,704ft).
  2. The coastline is 55 kilometres long (34 miles).
  3. The longest path in Britain – the South West Coast Path – traverses Exmoor’s towering coastline.
  4. Exmoor’s main rock types are old and new red sandstone, Devonian slate, limestone and shale.
  5. The Exmoor pony is Britain’s oldest breed of native pony.
  6. Exmoor’s landscape dates back 200 million years.
  7. Exmoor has one of the largest concentrations of red deer in England – about 3,000 live here.
Pew Tor

Best events and places to visit in Exmoor

Guided bat walks, Dunster

Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentoni)
Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentoni) ©Getty

On the first Wednesday of every month, you can take part in a guided tour and learn about the bats’ habitat, food and the conservation challenges they face.

Starting from the Dunster National Park Centre, enjoy a guided walk through the village’s hidden corners, learning about the rich history of the area as you look out for bats. exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/bats

Greencombe Garden, Porlock

Pink azaleas flowering in spring
Pink azaleas flowering in spring ©Getty

A beautiful spring and summer garden with three acres of mostly woodland, filled with azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. . greencombe.org

Minehead Country Market, Minehead

Farmer's market
Farmers’ market ©Getty

Open every Friday morning from 9am–11.30am in the Quaker Meeting House on Bancks Street in Minehead. The market sells a huge range of local products, including bread, cakes, fish, lamb, pork, duck, eggs, cheese, vegetables, chutneys, jams and chocolate. somersetcountrymarkets.co.uk

Minehead Farmers’ Market is  held in the centre of the town at The Parade, Park Street every Friday.

Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway

Lynmouth in Somerset
The town of Lynmouth and Lynmouth Bay in Somerset ©Getty

Take ride on a magnificent funicular railway linking the seaside town of Lynmouth with Lynton high on the Exmoor cliffs. Absorb the magnificent views then enjoy a nice cup of coffee in one of many cafes.

The railway is suitable for families, pushchairs and wheelchairs: cliffrailwaylynton.co.uk

Woody Bay wild swim

The Coast around Woody Bay, Devon, UK
The Coast around Woody Bay, Devon ©Getty

Woody Bay is on the Exmoor Heritage Coast just off the South West Coast Path. Access the beach via a zig-zagging path from Woody Bay carpark, descending through the woods to the rocky pebble and single beach. wildswim.com/woody-bay-exmoor

Dunster Castle

Dunster Castle
Dunster Castle ©Getty

Located on a wooded hill, a castle has existed here since at least Norman times, with an impressive medieval gatehouse and ruined tower giving a reminder of its turbulent history. The castle that you see today became a lavish country home during the 19th century for the Luttrell family, who lived here for 600 years.

The castle boasts spectacular views toward the Bristol Channel, the Quantock Hills and up to the moors of Exmoor. nationaltrust.org.uk/dunster-castle


Best walks in Exmoor

Here are three of our favourite walks in Exmoor national park – for a more comprehensive list see our Exmoor national park walking guide. 

Tarr Steps – 11.7km/7.3 miles

Tarr Steps, Exmoor
Tarr Steps, Exmoor ©Getty

Tarr Steps is one of Exmoor’s true hidden treasures and a firm favourite with visitors – once you’ve discovered it you’ll find yourself drawn back time and time. This gentle seven-mile ramble meanders alongside the river before looping through Withypool and climbing for gorgeous views over Exmoor. Map and route.

Valley of Rocks – 5.8km/3.6miles

Hiker on the headland in Valley of the Rocks on South West coast path near Lynmouth
Hiker on the headland in Valley of Rocks on South West Coast Path near Lynmouth ©Getty

On a quiet day, there’s a lost world feel to North Devon’s enigmatic Valley of Rocks, despite the serpentine ribbon of road that curls through the vale in the place where a river once ran. Exult in towering sea cliffs where feral goats clamber skilfully between Devonian crags on this short circular walk around the rocky coastal valley. Map and route.

Best walks in Exmoor National Park

From dramatic coastal footpaths to gentle river walks, there are myriad hikes to be enjoyed in Exmoor National Park – here is our guide to some of the best walking routes. 

View walks in Exmoor National Park

View from Selworthy Beacon to Porlock Bay Somerset UK Exmoor

East Lyn River – 11km/6.8 miles

East Lyn River, Devon
“And here, upon that stone, we rest awhile, For we can see the lovely river’s fall,” wrote British poet Arthur Shaughnessy in his poem Lynmouth ©Alamy

Rising high above Exmoor, the East Lyn River flows through the East Lyn Valley in Devon to the picturesque village of Lynmouth. This beautiful six-mile walk begins at Lynmouth in the Exmoor National Park and follows the East Lyn River upstream to Rockford before heading back to the coast. Map and route.


Best places to stay in Exmoor

Tarr Farm Inn and Restaurant, Dulverton

Next to  Tarr Steps is the beautiful Tarr Farm Inn. The restaurant and lodgings often have special evenings with live music and exotic food. Tarr Steps Farm, Dulverton TA22 9P,  tarrfarm.co.uk/stay

Longlands, Combe Martin

Longlands Luxury Glamping
Longlands Luxury Glamping ©Longlands

This is glamorous glamping. Each of the five luxury Safari Lodges can sleep up to six in three bedrooms. All lodges have an ensuite shower cabin and accept up to two dogs. On site you can find firewood, coffee, candles and even hammocks. Combe Martin, Devon, EX34 OPD, longlandsdevon.co.uk/glamping-lodges

Minehead Camping and Caravanning Club Site

Great facilities, with showers, wifi, electric hook-ups and amazing views from the cliffs over the sea. Hill Rd, Minehead TA24 5LB, campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk

Rosebank House: B&B, Porlock

Rosebank House B&B, Porlock
Rosebank House B&B, Porlock ©Rosebank

Rosebank House has been recently renovated to a high standard. Centrally situated in the picturesque village of Porlock, it is close to a range of amenities including pubs, restaurants and gift shops. It’s within walking distance to the beach as well as other places of interest, including Porlock Weir and Bossington. High Street, Porlock, Somerset, TA24 8PY, rosebankguesthouse.co.uk

Rookery Cottage, Lynton

Beautiful stone cottage with panoramic sea views stretching over the Bristol Channel towards the Welsh coastline. Near the beach in Lynmouth, this exceptional cottage is perfect for a holiday of relaxation and sunbathing. homeaway.co.uk


Wildlife to spot in Exmoor

Greater horseshoe bat

The greater horseshoe bat is the largest of the European Horseshoe Bats and is thus easily distinguished from other species. It is roughly the size of a small pear with reddish-brown on its back and cream-coloured underneath. These bats emerge from hibernation around May to form maternity colonies where they have their pups (baby bats).

Greater horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum
Greater horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum ©Getty

Heath fritillary

Exmoor is the national stronghold of the heath fritillary butterfly, one of the rarest of the butterflies breeding in Britain.

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The heath fritillary (Melitaea athalia) The heath fritillary (Melitaea athalia)
The heath fritillary (Melitaea athalia)

Exmoor pony

The Exmoor pony is a short and stocky breed exclusive to Exmoor in west Somerset and north Devon. It is largely brown or bay in colour and is noted for its hardiness and endurance. It is Britain’s oldest breed of native pony and dates back to around 50,000 BC.

A wild exmoor pony trots through a forest
A wild exmoor pony trots through a forest

Guide to Britain’s native pony breeds

Do you know your Fell pony from your Shetland pony? Our guide looks at the UK’s most common native pony breeds, including how to identify, common characteristics and where to see. 

 

Wild Exmoor Pony