30 reasons why we love Exmoor

PUBLISHED: 12:33 15 October 2019

A stone marks a meeting of ways on the heights of the moor above Winsford, overlooking one of Exmoors deep combes

A stone marks a meeting of ways on the heights of the moor above Winsford, overlooking one of Exmoors deep combes


From playtime and past times to ephemeral and esoteric, Simone Stanbrook-Byrne looks at 30 reasons why we will forever love Exmoor

1. Exmoor is place of isolation and mystery, of wind-hushed heights and deeply folded combes; somewhere to which we can escape. It is one of England's 'breathing spaces', somewhere to take stock before returning to the bustle, refreshed.

2. It is mostly ours. Although Exmoor straddles the county boundary between Devon and Somerset, 71% of the moor is in Somerset.

3. Delightful Exmoor ponies are one of the most iconic sights of the moor. These hardy little people are well-equipped to survive moorland winters, although they nearly died out during the Second World War when they were reputedly used for target practice and may also have ended up on the dinner table during food rationing.

Delightful and distinctive, Exmoor ponies are well-adapted to moorland winters with thick ‘double’ coatsDelightful and distinctive, Exmoor ponies are well-adapted to moorland winters with thick ‘double’ coats

4. The Exmoor coastline is full of superb drama, high cliffs plummeting to the waves. It is a land and seascape ever popular with photographers.

5. Exmoor was the first designated Dark Sky Reserve in Europe and without light pollution it is a truly awesome place to watch the stars.

6. Majestic and graceful red deer roam across the moor and are our largest wild land mammal. The stags re-grow their splendid antlers every year.

Red deer are our largest wild land mammalRed deer are our largest wild land mammal

7. Glorious gorse. "When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of favour." The good news is that there are always gorse blooms to be found somewhere. To drink gorse flower wine is to taste a distillation of sunshine.

8. It is a country of contrasts. Low cloud blankets the earth in dense mist, waiting for a touch of sunlight to roll away the gloom and lift the lowering sky. Then, on a crisp winter's day, the moor basks in a wonderful clarity of light.

9. Cloud shadows, racing across the high moor to tumble into deeply folded combes.

Bossington's attractive cottages are festooned with flowers in summerBossington's attractive cottages are festooned with flowers in summer

10. Hunkered-down villages and farmsteads. What delight, on a cold day, to see cosy, tucked away homes, stoutly withstanding the worst of the weather.

11. The sound of busy streams and cascading waterfalls hidden in the landscape to be chanced upon by passing walkers and grateful dogs. In winter, encountering the beauty of a frozen waterfall is like finding treasure.

12. Lorna Doone, the much-loved romantic novel by R.D. Blackmore, entwines fact with fiction; an enduring tale of legendary lovers, with Exmoor as their backdrop.

The ‘young’ River Exe not far from WinsfordThe ‘young’ River Exe not far from Winsford

13. Exmoor boasts some delightful tea gardens and tea rooms. Two of my favourites are Kitnors in Bossington and Periwinkle in Selworthy - but there are a legion of other lovely places serving up the taste of Exmoor, quintessentially 'English'.

14. Way to go! The fingerposts of the moor are little works of craftsmanship and it's always good to see them, reassuring us that, even if we're way out in the wilderness, we're not lost.

15. Huge skies and vast views, where the distant weather can be watched and you know you've got ten minutes to get those waterproofs on before the storm is right on top of you.

In an Exmoor tea garden: Kitnor's at BossingtonIn an Exmoor tea garden: Kitnor's at Bossington

16. Along the moorland's coastal edge we can enjoy some fabulous beaches. More often stony than sandy, there are plenty to explore. Bossington is good for collecting driftwood.

17. The River Exe, which is born on Exmoor, rises from the Exe Plain north of Simonsbath and runs to the sea at Exmouth in Devon.

18. Exmoor boasts some fabulous trees, tucked away from the wind-blasted heights and living links with the moor's past.

Exmoor boasts some fabulous trees. This one is on private land near DulvertonExmoor boasts some fabulous trees. This one is on private land near Dulverton

19. Dunkery Beacon is the highest point of Exmoor (and, indeed, Somerset) at 519m. It reigns over the surrounding landscape topped by its mighty cairn, and can be seen from distant points far outside the National Park.

20. Exmoor is home to superb and historic inns - and, of course, ales (although Exmoor Ale itself is based outside the National Park boundary). The thatched Royal Oak Inn at Winsford has a traditional appeal - which is quite an achievement since it has suffered serious fire damage at times in the last few decades.

21. Snowdrop Valley, whose fleeting beauty only appears in the deep of winter, when a confection of tiny white flowers carpets the banks of the River Avill. It's hardly surprising that this river is said to have been the inspiration for the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Man-made beauty: early morning at WimbleballMan-made beauty: early morning at Wimbleball

22. Wimbleball Lake, a reservoir created in the 1970s which changed the landscape of that part of Exmoor forever. It is now a place for rest and recreation - and is beautiful despite being man-made, and, at the time, controversial. A good place for walking, being on the water or gazing at the stars.

23. The colours of Exmoor. Varying with the seasons, the moor is a palette of vibrant colours: purple heather and uncountable shades of greens and golds, topped by an ever-changing sky.

24. Wild swimming - either in the sea or a river pool. Refreshing for the summer; not for the faint-hearted in winter.

25. Pony trekking. It's great to see the moor from horseback and for those without their own equine there are plenty of places where you can have riding lessons and hire a horse.

26. Flower-festooned villages in summer, exuberant with blooms and colour.

27. Moorland terrain attracts a wide variety of birdlife: stonechats 'chink' from the tops of gorse bushes; ravens cronk overhead and, if you're lucky, you may spot a wheatear, whose curious name is actually a politer version of 'white arse', so-called because of the flash of white rump when the bird flies.

28. Historic churches, particularly the bijou and isolated St Beuno's at Culbone, reputedly the smallest still-used parish church in England.

29. The mythical moor. Wilderness and isolation feeds creative minds and the moor is full of lore and legend, such as that associated with The Devil's Punchbowl, near Winsford, one of Exmoor's extraordinary geological features. It was, allegedly, created by the Devil scooping out a well and flinging the spoil over his shoulder to make Dunkery Beacon.

30. Exmoor everlasting - its sense of oldness and permanence, encountered in lofty burial mounds that speak of long-gone peoples who walked this way. Watch for their ghosts; they may be watching you...

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