Exmoor National Park is one of our favourite parts of England. It combines the drama of rugged moorland with the stunning scenic beauty of the coast, and is wonderful walking country. There are river valleys, thick woods, lush green hills, the unique Exmoor ponies (below), England’s only wild herds of red deer, historic villages, and pretty coastal towns. Exmoor really does have so much to offer, and we love our visits there.
Wild Exmoor Ponies
All Photos (c) Donna Dailey
Exmoor was established as a National Park in 1954. It is one of England’s smaller National Parks, and covers an area of 692.8 square kilometres (267.5 square miles). About 70% of this is in Somerset, the remainder in Devon. Its highest point is Dunkery Beacon, which is 519 metres (1,703 feet) above sea level, and which is also the highest point in Somerset.
People are often surprised to discover that England’s highest sea cliffs are a part of Exmoor, but Culbone Hill rises to a height of 314 metres (1,030 feet), just to the west of the lovely little town of Porlock in Somerset. Mention Somerset and people think of the Somerset Levels, which is why the coastal scenery can be so startling.
Some of the main towns within Exmoor are Dunster, Porlock, Dulverton, Lynton and Lynmouth. None of them has a mainline railway station, although Dunster has a station a mile out of town which is on the West Somerset Railway, a heritage line that runs between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard.
Minehead is the closest larger town, a popular holiday resort just outside the Exmoor National Park on the North Somerset coast. It is also the starting (or ending) point for the South West Coast Path. However, Minehead has no mainline train station. To get from London to Minehead you can take a National Express coach, changing in Taunton, with a journey time of between 6.5 and 8 hours. From Minehead there are then local bus services to many of the main towns on Exmoor.
Alternatively, you can go from London to Taunton, which is a much bigger town about 16kms (10 miles) south east of the National Park boundary. There are several direct coaches a day from London to Taunton with National Express, and a journey time of between 3.5 and 4.5 hours.
There are regular trains from London’s Paddington Station to Taunton operated by First Great Western. There is usually about one direct train an hour, with a journey time of 2-3 hours, and other trains which require a change in Bristol or Exeter. It is better to book onto a direct London-Taunton train. You can often find the best train ticket prices online at the RailEasy website.
From Taunton there are buses that will take you to Minehead, stopping at Dunster, or to Dulverton, right in the heart of Exmoor.
From central London to Exmoor is just under 200 miles and a journey time of about 4 hours. Much of the route is on fast motorway (the M4 followed by the M5) but the journey time increases considerably when you get off the motorway and into Exmoor itself. Even some of the main roads are narrow and winding, and you can get caught behind slow-moving rural traffic, so allow plenty of time when driving around Exmoor.
You must also be prepared for lots of single-track roads, some of which have passing places but others may test your skill at reversing. Despite the image of moorland as being flat and desolate, along the Exmoor coast are some of the steepest roads you are likely to encounter in England. Porlock Hill, for example, is a notorious stretch of the main A39 road that runs along the coasts of Somerset and Devon. The hill has gradients that reach 1 in 4, and if driving up the hill, which has a few hairpin bends, you may even find you have to change down to first gear.
Apart from local buses there is also an excellent transport service for those who want to leave cars behind: the Moor Rover. This non-profit organisation is for the use of both locals and visitors, to help them enjoy Exmoor more fully. In July, August and September they will pick up and drop off individuals and small groups, for a modest charge, allowing walkers to do linear walks and not be restricted by public transport options or by having to get back to their car. The service operates from spring through to autumn, and outside the high summer months bookings must be for at least four people (though all enquiries will be considered). Visit the Moor Rover website for full details of this worthy service.
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