As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Exmoor National Park, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of walking, wildlife and adventure activities in this glorious protected area in southwest England.
Cliff, moor, river, hill, beach, wood: there’s a variety of habitat and landscape that makes Exmoor a hotspot for diverse activities. We’ve assembled a tantalising taster of what’s on offer: walking trails traversing remote areas and scaling vertiginous sea cliffs, high-octane activities and meditative fishing, rivers to be kayaked and lakes to be sailed.
For those with a pair of binoculars and a modicum of curiosity, the local wildlife offers thrilling watching: red deer rut, Exmoor ponies graze, birds of prey soar. Animals in captivity also provide insights: learn about owls, visit Exmoor ponies, even take a llama for a trek.
In this guide we’ve provided details of the local people who can introduce you to the aspects of the moor they themselves love: from safaris to coasteering and kayaking, stargazing and surfing. And we’ve provided a few tips to help you plan your own exploration on foot in our introduction to walking in the Park.
There are few activities that sound quite as daft as coasteering: don wetsuit and helmet; leap into crashing surf; climb high onto rocks above sea; leap into waves; repeat. Yet it’s not only one of the most exhilarating adventures to be had along Exmoor’s shores, it also offers a unique perspective on arguably England’s most craggy, dramatic stretches of coastline, a weirdly addictive blend of bodysurfing, rock climbing and geology. Coasteering is among a comprehensive array of activities organised by Exmoor Adventures, including kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, abseiling and raft building – all of which emphasise the diverse nature of the Exmoor landscape. exmooradventures.co.uk
Exmoor Pony Centre
The Exmoor pony, a hardy, muscular breed, thrived on the moor for centuries, but changes in management, war and other factors caused the population of pure-bred animals to plummet to just a handful at the end of the Second World War. The Moorland Mousie Trust, based at the Exmoor Pony Centre, works to conserve and promote the Exmoor breed. Visitors are welcome at the centre to learn more about the breed and its history, meet a small community of animals, and even head out onto the moor on a trekking experience. exmoorponycentre.org.uk
Exmoor Owl and Hawk Centre
Though the moor’s regal red deer understandably grab the most attention, birdlife is also rich here – and this specialist centre, based at a delightful 15th-century National Trust farmhouse, offers the chance to learn about owls, hawks and eagles. Activities range from a visit to the owl garden, meeting a range of raptor species, to sessions flying trained birds – including a Bengal eagle owl and a twisting, diving Harris hawk. Photography days present opportunities for capturing intimate portraits, while owl evenings provide atmospheric encounters. The centre also offers alpaca walks and horse or pony trekking, as well as the characterful B&B accommodation and cream teas. Guests staying at the B&B get a reduced rate at the Exmoor Owl and Hawk Centre. exmoorfalconry.co.uk
Exmoor Wildlife Safaris
Each 2½-hour Land Rover safari takes a different route and, setting out at various times throughout the day, offer subtly varying perspectives on the moor and its wildlife. You may spot red, roe or fallow deer, muscular Exmoor ponies, flitting bats or other diverse species of woodland and open moor, as well as getting a flavour of agricultural aspects of life in the region. There’s also the opportunity to take advantage of Exmoor’s status as Europe’s first Dark Sky Reserve on a stargazing safari, as an expert astronomy guide helps you identify stars and constellations. exmoorwildlifesafaris.co.uk
For information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby visitor attractions, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Exmoor National Park