Once a royal hunting forest and now one of Britain’s oldest National Parks, Exmoor is a place full of contrasts just waiting to be explored.
With its dramatic coastline of high wooded cliffs, sheltered bays and historic ports fringing a vast expanse of wild open moorland criss-crossed with rushing streams and quiet trails, it’s the perfect playground for doing what you love!
Not forgetting the moorland ponies, red deer and quirky pubs dotted around serving excellent local food.
There really is something for everyone here. For holiday ideas and inspiration when you stay at our Exmoor holiday cottages, check out our top 10 things to do in and around Exmoor to find the perfect day out for you and your family.
1 Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum
Where: Arlington Court, Arlington, Barnstaple EX31 4LP; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/arlington-court-and-the-national-trust-carriage-museum
Details: Arlington Court, home to the Chichester family for 500 years, is today owned by the National Trust and open to all, including dogs. The fascinating museum in the stables is crammed with carriages once owned by lords and ladies, while model ships, pewter and shells are on display in the impressive Regency house. Children will love to spy through the bat-cam, check out the birdhide, hunt for geocaches and follow the quiz trails. There are two outdoor play areas and over 20 miles of footpaths to explore, while the grounds provide plenty of places to unpack a picnic. Or refuel in the Victorian kitchen tearoom, which serves up all sorts of delights. Check out too the special events which take place throughout the year.
2 Dunster Castle and Working Watermill
Where: Dunster Castle, Dunster, near Minehead TA24 6SL; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunster-castle
Details: This National Trust attraction is an impressive sight, crowning a densely wooded hill and surrounded by breathtaking grounds. Believed to date from the Norman times, Dunster Castle has a rich and turbulent history – learn more about it on the family trail. Once you have nosed through the lavish rooms within the castle, make sure you take some time to explore the grounds. There is a working 18th-century water mill, Mediterranean gardens, wooded pathways, a gentle river and a whole host of wildlife to spot. Dogs on leads are welcome within the castle grounds, stables and shop. Explore nearby Dunster beach, which is dog-friendly all year round, along with Dunster’s picturesque medieval village offering everything from gift shops to tea rooms.
3 Exmoor Zoo
Where: Bratton Fleming, Barnstaple EX31 4SG; www.exmoorzoo.co.uk
Details: Exmoor Zoo,You could try and hunt down the Beast of Exmoor on the moors, but a better place to guarantee a sighting is Exmoor Zoo, where the black leopard hogs the limelight. This is no big city zoo but the expansion of a conservation park where little critters – spiders, otters, wallabies – in natural-style enclosures – make up much of what there is to see. There are larger beasts such as lemurs, lynx and a trio of cheetahs, but getting up close and personal is what it’s all about. Touch snakes and spiders in handling sessions, learn about the animals through feeding sessions and talks, and follow zoo trails around the different species and their habitats. Super-keen kids can even book up to be a zoo keeper for half a day (full days for 15s and over).
4 Lundy Island
Where: Lundy Island, Bristol Channel, Devon, EX39 2LY; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lundy
Details: Although only three miles in length and half-a-mile wide, Lundy makes for an unforgettable day trip. From April to October, the graceful MS Oldenburg departs three or four times a week from Bideford or Ilfracombe – with any luck you’ll spot dolphins on the 11-mile (two hour) crossing. Once docked you can join in snorkel safaris and rock pool rambles or grab a ‘letterboxing’ pack from the shop and follow clues around the wild terrain. Lundy packs a punch when it comes to wildlife – most notably the bright-beaked puffins the island is named after, as well as seabirds, feral deer and Soay sheep. Not forgetting the endemic Lundy cabbage…
5 Lynton and Lynmouth
Where: Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway, The Esplanade, Lynmouth EX35 6EQ; www.cliffrailwaylynton.co.uk
Details: The picturesque towns of Lynton and Lynmouth bring together the wild beauty of the moors and the towering sea cliffs of north Devon. You can take in the scenery on a buggy-friendly stroll from Lynton or, for a more exciting trip, ride the famous cliff railway. This dog-friendly Victorian water-powered lift takes the strain of the 300m cliffs between the twin towns – an amazing way to experience the breathtaking views across the Bristol Channel to Wales. Check out Lynmouth’s picture-perfect shingle cove, a gorgeous spot for rock pooling, crabbing and eating fish and chips. Don’t miss Lee Bay, a wonderfully secluded beach near Lynton, the fabulous walks to Watersmeet and the stunning coastline at the Valley of the Rocks where wild goats graze.
6 Tarr Steps
Where: Tarr Steps, near Liscombe, Exmoor TA22 9EX; www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/tarr-steps
Details: Those in search of Exmoor’s tranquillity and history should take a trip to its most famous landmark, the Tarr Steps. This medieval clapper bridge spanning the 55-foot River Barle in 17 spans of flat stone, is thought to have been crafted around 1000 BC. Families will love the Tarr Steps Woodland National Nature Reserve, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife; from otters to red deer and even the rare barbastelle bat. Close by are burial mounds of Bronze Age men from 5,000 years ago. Take your dog on one of the many well-thought out walks, they’ll certainly thank you for it! There is a tea shop and an open picnic area close to the river crossing. Or stop off for lunch and a drink at the 16th-century Tarr Farm Inn.
7 The Big Sheep
Where: The Big Sheep, Abbotsham, Bideford EX39 5AP; www.thebigsheep.co.uk
Details: This quirky sheep-themed park makes a baa-rilliant day out for all ages. Where else can you bet your ewe-ros (the park’s currency) on the sheep racing during the summer months and see border collies round up Indian running ducks? As well as sheep shearing, lamb bottle feeding and horse whispering, there are pony rides, farm safaris, self-drive tractors and EWEtopia, a soft play barn. If that’s not enough to wear out energetic youngsters, the splash zone and jumping pillows should do it! And when you tire of sheep puns, the site is also home to Battlefield Devon for hi-tech laser gun battles as well as the Ultimate Adventure Centre, with high ropes, zipwires, climbing wall and mountain boarding. There’s an on-site brewery, and the Shepherds Restaurant does cream teas.
8 Valley of the Rocks
Where: Valley of the Rocks, near Lynton; www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/learning/the-moorland-classroom/valley-of-rocks
Details: The dramatic Valley of the Rocks is a mile’s walk west of Lynton along a cracking coast path. Two-metre high ferns growing rampant, big rocks scattered everywhere, high cliffs, only one bumpy old road – and wild goats! While the wild goats, which scramble amongst the rocky outcrops, may have made the valley famous (they even have their own Facebook page!), it’s the landscape which makes the valley unforgettable. Look out for the spectacular weathered rock formations dubbed The Devil’s Cheesering, Castle Rocks and Ragged Jack. Fabulous for families to explore, this rather special place feels like a completely different world.
9 West Somerset Railway
Where: West Somerset Railway, Minehead TA24 5BG; www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk
Details: Take a nostalgic ride aboard a steam train on the famous West Somerset Railway. There’s not a dull moment on this 20-mile trip as you puff through stunning countryside from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard. Your gentle trip is punctuated by eight stations en route where you can disembark – the beauty of this line is that there is so much to do. Alight at Dunster for Dunster Castle and the medieval village; at the old harbour town of Watchet for shopping; or at Washford for the 13th-century Cleeve Abbey and Torre Cider Farm. There are beautiful walks from both Stogumber and Crowcombe Heathfield (with walking guides sold at every station) and the best place to swim is at the long sand and pebble beach at Blue Anchor. Most steam trains include a well stocked buffet and bar and the trains are dog friendly.
10 Wimbleball Lake
Where: Wimbleball Lake, Lower Goodacre, Brompton Regis, Dulverton TA22 9NU; www.swlakestrust.org.uk/wimbleball-lake
Details: One of our favourite Exmoor spots is Wimbleball Lake, part of the South West Lakes Trust. Here you will find tuition in a wide range of watersports including kayaking, sailing, canoeing and windsurfing. You can also hire a craft, launch your own, take part in taster sessions or gain RYA qualifications. Alternatively, landlubbers can choose from cycling (bike hire is available), archery, climbing and a challenging high ropes course. The lake is well stocked for the fisherman while walks range from a lakeside stroll to the full eight-mile circuit, ideal for those with an interest in wildlife. And when you’re all tired out, you can refuel in the Lake Café with its splendid views.
Our top 10 things to do in and around Exmoor give you a taste of some of the fantastic attractions on offer when you stay at our dog-friendly Exmoor holiday cottages. If you need some more ideas for fantastic days out, take a look at the ‘Things to Do & Events’ section for each of our property listings and make the most of your getaway!