Camping Inspiration: Walking in Exmoor
Exmoor’s charms are spread between a stunning coastline and atmospheric moorland that combine to make a walker’s paradise
Words & pictures: Steve Goodier
For anyone interested in walking and stargazing while they camp, Exmoor is the place. The walking is superb and the National Park was designated the first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe.
If you have visited this lovely region and stayed on one of its many campsites, this shouldn’t come as any surprise to you. The moors simply beg you to tie up your boots and don a rucksack and, on clear cloudless evenings, the night sky over the rolling hills is stunning. There is little light pollution in most areas and the amount of stars visible to the naked eye is staggering.
Exmoor can be loosely defined as the rolling open moorland that is found spread over the counties of west Somerset and north Devon in England’s south-west.
The National Park was designated in 1954 and takes its name from the lovely River Exe, which rises almost in the centre of the area. It is the second smallest national park in England and Wales, ahead of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in south west Wales.
As well as the glorious and seemingly endless rolling and heathery moors the National Park also takes in the East Lyn valley, the Vale of Porlock, the Brendon Hills and around 34 miles of rugged coastline that runs along the Bristol Channel.
High cliffs and hills rise along the sea here and the walking is atmospheric and challenging, with some awesome viewpoints such as the tops of Little Hangman and Great Hangman, which has the highest sea cliff on mainland Britain below it rising to 820ft/250 metres above the sea. These great tops tower dramatically above Wild Pear Beach near Combe Martin.
There are hidden bays and secret beaches to be discovered, and for an awesome walk check out the aptly named Valley of Rocks near Lynton. Also worth some of anyone’s time is a day spent hiking along the spectacular coastline between Heddon’s Mouth and Woody Bay.
And then there is Lynmouth tucked in a hidden valley next to the sea – a peaceful place where the tourists flock in numbers. Lynmouth was also the scene of one of the most spectacular floods that our islands have ever seen when the East and West Lyn Rivers overflowed in 1952 and caused massive destruction as they thundered boulders onto the village below.
The seaside town of Minehead just borders Exmoor National Park and is the essence of a typical family beach holiday location and much loved by generations of families with buckets and spades.
This is a region of high moors too – friendly and very walkable moorland that reaches its highest point on the summit of Dunkery Beacon at 1,703 ft/519 metres. It can be reached by a shortish uphill walk from a high car park.
There are walks to be had everywhere, at levels to suit all ages and abilities. View Exmoor as the gentler version of Devon’s other National park, Dartmoor, which lies to the south of it. On Exmoor you will find none of Dartmoor’s rugged granite tors and barren wildernesses. Instead you get friendly paths and well-marked ways over rounded tops with walks that take you into remote situations usually with great views of the sea and coast.
This is the Lorna Doone country of Richard Dodderidge Blackmore’s famous 1869 novel, which makes good reading before you visit. It’s a great tale of historical romance based around Exmoor’s Badgworthy Water and East Lyn Valley and many of its locations can be visited whilst on Exmoor.
When my children were very young Exmoor was a regular holiday destination for us and we camped all over it enjoying glorious summer weekends and often decent weather too. It was here I taught my youngsters to walk longer distances than they had previously and we loved our time together in this part of the world.
Habitable regions of the moor are scattered with the main ones being Porlock, Dulverton, Lynton and Lynmouth, the latter two being connected by the scenic Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway.
The moorland is covered in soft grass and heather but is virtually treeless; it looks particularly stunning when the heather is in bloom in August and September. Some of the combes and lower areas have pretty woodlands and sparkling streams abound.
The area is simply charming and a camper’s delight. Many favour the sites to be found on the rugged north coastline with its spectacular cliffs and headlands and some of these are located in staggeringly beautiful positions with awesome sea views.
Others look for the quietness of the internal parts of the moor to pitch their tents, but whatever your preference there is a good choice of camping locations that will suit all budgets and tastes.
Exmoor caters for all, with walkers and mountain bikers being particularly well looked after and horse riders finding delights aplenty. If you like spending your holiday out in the open air then you couldn’t come to a better place.
CLOUD FARM CAMPING SITE
Oare, Lynton, North Devon, EX35 6NU
Cloud Farm Camping Site is set in the heart of the Doone Valley and is surrounded by the countryside made famous by RD Blackmore in his novel, Lorna Doone. The site is great for exploring the north and eastern sections of the National Park and has an enchanting riverside location on the flat bottom of a steep sided and narrow valley. Cloud Farm is ideally situated for a camping break at any time of the year and the trees dotted around the valley give good spring and autumn colour which is backed by the bracken on the moors above. The site is open all year and gets very busy even off-season.
This is a decent sized location that prides itself on being peaceful and family orientated. The site takes caravans as well as tents but does not have many electric hook-ups (about 12) and will not take advance bookings so you should aim to arrive as early as you can if you need one.
The lovely river is shallow with odd deep pools, and pitches near it fill up quickly with families who have kids. The toilet and shower facilities are kept clean and tidy and were refurbished a few years ago – the showers are unisex and the facilities are adequate for the size of the site. There is also a utility washing area which includes launderette facilities and a fridge/freezer. The site allows campfires as long as they don’t get out of hand and sells logs for burning. There is also a tea rooms offering breakfasts and snacks (with a takeaway facility) and a small shop selling food and camping odds and ends as well as children’s toys and fishing nets for the river.
The ground at Cloud Farm can be quite rocky and hard so make sure you are carrying some heavy duty steel pegs.
WIMBLEBALL LAKE CAMPSITE
Wimbleball Lake, Near Dulverton, Dulverton, Somerset, TA22 9NU
Wimbleball Lake and Country Park is a must-visit location for outdoor lovers on Exmoor, with walkers and cyclists being well catered for. As well as this, this large reservoir (completed in 1979) has great water sports facilities for kayakers, boaters, sailing boat enthusiasts and fishermen. Wimbleball Lake Campsite is located roughly half way down the west side of the reservoir and is a great place for exploring the southern and eastern regions of Exmoor from as well as being ideally located for spending time enjoying all the reservoir has to offer the visitor.
The campsite takes tents, caravans and campervans on grass and hard standing pitches with electric hook-ups for those who require them. Wimbleball Lake also has a selection of wooden camping pods and three bell tents for hire.
On site there is a children’s play area and a small café for campers to use. Fire pits are available to hire for those who would like to have an open fire by their tent. Wimbleball Lake Campsite is an ideal location for family campers to come to and there is plenty of space for children to play and run around burning off their energy.
The toilet and shower blocks are kept clean and tidy and there are disabled facilities plus a baby changing room and wash up areas. There is also a washing machine and tumble dryer if you need them. Wimbleball Lake Campsite is a relaxing and peaceful location to camp at with plenty of choice when you come to pitching your tent and, as the A396 runs quite close to the site, you are well connected to the road network for exploring the National Park.
The site has a water sports activity centre offering tuition for windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and cycling. Hiring facilities are also available.
STOWFORD FARM TOURING CARAVAN AND CAMPING SITE
Berry Down, Combe Martin, North Devon, EX34 0PW
Popular Stowford Farm Meadows Touring Caravan and Camping Site is near the town of Combe Martin and ideal for exploring the northern and western parts of Exmoor. You will find the site at the end of its own drive and set amid 500 acres of rolling down land where over seventy acres have been given over to woodland walks for campers to enjoy.
Facilities on-site include a reasonably priced indoor swimming pool, plus there is purpose built riding centre for those who are interested in horse riding, you also have the Stable Bars where you can have a drink at night and enjoy regular entertainment evenings during the main season.
There is a coffee shop and restaurant and new for this season is Stowaways Restaurant and Tight Lines Chippy. For family campers with younger children the great pull at Stowford Farm Meadows is their Petorama facility. There is a charge for entry but this is something that will delight the whole family from the youngest to the oldest. You can see the animals, stroke them and even feed them at designated times.
On site, there are five fields for tents and caravans and plenty of trees to screen them from each other. The site has five toilet blocks and each has a laundry facility attached to it. There are disabled facilities too. Stowford Farm is a great location for family campers on Exmoor.
Stowford Farm can get very busy in peak season so it is always worth booking before coming here to avoid disappointment.
FOR WEATHER FORECASTS
Best Walks on Exmoor by Richard Webber
Exmoor and Quantocks Walks (Pathfinder Guide) by Brian Conduit
Exmoor and The Quantocks by Sue Viccars
Walk Exmoor by David Hitt
Exmoor Rangers Favourite Walks – 25 Circular Walks
MAPS AND NAVIGATION
Although Exmoor is not as demanding as Dartmoor you will still need to be able to map read and navigate proficiently as you can quickly find yourself a long way from a road or help. Wear boots and take a rucksack containing hat, gloves, waterproofs and food and drink. Weather can change quickly so make sure you have an up to date forecast before setting out and avoid the moor and coastal cliffs in bad weather.
The following map will be of use to you:
Ordnance Survey OL Explorer 9 – Exmoor (Barnstaple/Lynton/Minehead/Dulverton)