Exmoor National Park is a landscape of contrasts. And yet, somehow, between the wilderness of the high moors and the rugged coastline carved by the sea over countless millennia, Exmoor remains the UK’s least visited National Park. However, that’s not to say that this open landscape shouldn’t totally be on your radar. Located on the boundary of Northern Devon and Western Somerset, here’s a road trip itinerary of one day in Exmoor you’ll want to steal!
Exmoor National Park: The UK’s least visited National Park
Designated a National Park in 1954 (making it the UK’s 8th oldest national park), Exmoor is characterized by its seaside location and expansive open moorland. Home to the Exmoor pony, an equine which has inhabited the area for thousands of years and is now considered an endangered species, other highlights of Exmoor include Neolithic sites of importance, as well as plenty of hiking opportunities.
This driving itinerary will take you to some of the top highlights of Exmoor and give you the opportunity to spot plenty of beautiful views along the way. However, it’s important to note that there is limited signal across much of the moorland and so be sure to bring paper maps/ download directions before you set off. Bring plenty of snacks, drinks and note that many of the lanes are single-track.
Driving time: 1 hour 3 minutes
Distance covered: 22.2 miles
Stop #1: Tarr Steps
By far one of the more population destinations in Exmoor National Park, Tarr Steps is actually a misnomer. For when you visit this river crossing, instead of finding a set of steps, you’ll actually find a medieval clapper bridge which is over fifty metres in length.
When there (should you not make the same mistake as me and manage to venture to the right side of the river crossing), on-site there are car parking facilities and several woodland walking opportunities. While several theories exist, it’s unclear as to how old the bridge actually is.
Some say that the clapper bridge dates all the way back to the Bronze Age, while others claim that Tarr Steps probably originated in the 1400s. In truth, the real age of the bridge remains up for debate, though it has been greatly restored many times following heavy rainfall.
Stop #2: Hawkridge
The beautiful settlement of Hawkridge has little by way of attractions. Instead, the charm of the place lies in its secluded nature, beautiful views over the surrounding countryside, and complete lack of phone signal! And so, if you’re looking to truly get away from the hustle and bustle of modern day life, then Hawkridge is the place to head to.
One of the biggest highlights of Hawkridge is its Parish Church, a medieval building complete with graveyard boasting spectacular views over the rolling hills of Somerset. Constructed during the 14th-century, there are now ferns growing in the bell tower, while a Norman door graces the church’s northern wall.
Stop #3: Withypool
As one of the larger village in Exmoor National Park, Withypool should be your first port of call should you wish to stop somewhere for lunch. Also previously known as Widepolle, Widipol, and Withypoole, today the Parish of Withypool includes the hamlet of Hawkridge and is home to some two hundred or so residents.
Attested as early as the Domesday book, today the village is a place where you can stock up on supplies in the village shop, sample some local food at the Royal Oak Inn, or simply laze around alongside the river which meanders its way through the village. While in Withypool, be sure to pay a visit to the local inn, as it was in the bar that RD Blackmore wrote some of Lorna Doone.
Stop #4: Exford
Though tiny, Exford retains a charm which can seldom still be found in the UK today. After all, wandering through this village feels akin to stepping back in time. Located in the western part of Somerset, as its name suggests, Exford lies along the River Exe.
The river then flows through Devon, travelling through the region’s capital city of Exeter, before joining the sea at Exmouth. Highlights of Exford include the Iron Age hill fort of Cow Castle, exploring the village’s 15th-century church, and sampling local cuisine at one of the village’s several pubs and restaurants.
Stop #5 High Exmoor
Much like its larger Devonian counterpart, Dartmoor National Park, the high moor of Exmoor is characterized by its blooming heather, semi-feral ponies, and breathtaking views over the surrounding landscape. The very highest point of Exmoor is Dunkery Beacon, a summit which sits 520 metres above sea level.
For the chance to see the sea, spot some wild ponies, or merely spy some sheep, the high moors are the place to go. It’s also in the wilderness of the moors where you’ll find the best hiking trails and get the chance to explore some of the area’s oldest archaeological sites.
Stop #6: Porlock Weir
The pretty fishing community of Porlock Weir is well worthy of a venture to on any trip through North Devon. After all, with roots dating back to the Middle Ages, perhaps even earlier, many of the houses onsite today date back to the 17th-century, meaning that a wander around this place truly feels like stepping into a history book.
Stop #7: Selworthy
The final stop of this Exmoor road trip is the pretty village of Selworthy. Located in the middle of nowhere, down a winding country lane, today the village is largely owned and managed by the National Trust. At the very top of the village, on the fringes of the woods which populate the area, a rather unusual church can be found.
Dating back to the 14th and 15th-centuries the painted church appears almost fortified peeking out from above the tree line when entering the village by car. Other highlights of Selworthy include beautifully appointed tearooms in the heart of the village, as well as the chance to snap some photos of some pretty thatched cottages.