Exmoor National Park is a great place for walking and biking. It’s also packed with fascinating places to visit. In fact there’s so much to see and do we have to break it down into several different guides.
We’re starting in the east, and we’ll not only be strolling through the stunning countryside, we’ll also be taking in some of the Exmoor’s historic buildings.
If you’re taking on the challenge of the 51-mile Coleridge Way walk (it starts a few miles from the Carew Arms in Nether Stowey), you’ll pass through Combe Sydenham Country Park about eleven miles in. If you’d rather head straight for the park, it’s ten minutes or so by car.
The 15th century Combe Sydenham House was once owned by Elizabeth Sydenham, who was married to Sir Frances Drake. The House is private, but it’s the grounds that will attract walkers and mountain bikers. There are 500 acres in total, a mixture of woodland, deer park and gardens that offer trails of all kinds, including a modest hill that provides great views from the top.
Dunster Castle & Conyger Tower
Our next stop is another hilltop, but this one is altogether more dramatic. The delightful village of Dunster overlooks the Bristol Channel. At its centre are a host of interesting shops and galleries, plus a yarn market built in the 17th century. It’s also worth walking through to find the working water mill – in the appropriately named Mill Lane.
However, it’s the imposing castle that dominates. Now run by the National Trust, it’s been here since Anglo-Saxon times and was home to the Luttrell family for 600 years. As you can imagine, there’s plenty of history to explore inside, and the gardens are splendid.
You might also like to take a walk out to Conygar Tower. Although legend says it was built as a lookout to warn if the Welsh invaded, it’s actually an 18th century folly. There are rumours of a secret tunnel between tower and castle, but nobody has found it yet.
If you visit Dunster you can’t help but see the popular town of Minehead hugging the coast below. It’s well worth popping in for a look around, but those more interested in the great outdoors should turn south and head for Hats Wood. There’s a very peaceful walk here, meandering a couple of miles through part of the Dunster Estate. Information is available via the Phototrails.org website – an organisation with a particular interest in country walking for people with disabilities.
Wheddon Cross and Winsford
About 6 miles further south you come to Wheddon Cross, the highest village on Exmoor. There’s a circular walk of three miles that winds along the River Avill and through Snowdrop Valley. It’s an unmissable sight if you’re here in spring, but lovely the whole year.
A little further down the road you drop into the Exe valley and find Winsford. The five mile walk here takes you along streets of thatched cottages, past the village green and through the ford (you don’t have to get your feet wet). There’s a lot of open space out here, and wildlife is abundant. Red deer are often seen, and an occasional badger at dawn and dusk. Hawks and buzzards are prolific too.
We’ll end this Exmoor guide with a reservoir, though the surrounding countryside has softened the edges to such an extent that in places it’s hard to believe it is man-made. Wander round to the Wimbelball Dam though and you’ll see a marvel of human engineering.
There are several trails around Wimbleball and it’s a popular spot with dog walkers and off-road cyclists. Not surprisingly there are lots of activities on the water too.
Exmoor is Europe’s first ‘dark skies reserve’ and Wimbleball is a particularly good place for a bit of star-gazing if you’re here after dark.
If you’ve got any energy left before you return to the Carew Arms for a delicious evening meal, we recommend a wander up Haddon Hill. You can see the ridge-line from Wimbelball. It’s not the highest point on Exmoor (we’ll go there another day), but it is quite a long way up, and the views are spectacular!