Photo of pony grazing in field of heather

An Exmoor pony grazes in flowering heather on Dunkery Hill in Exmoor National Park.

Photograph by Adam Burton, Alamy

Name: Exmoor National Park

Location: England

Date Established: 1954

Size: 267 square miles (692 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

• Wild Coast Exmoor’s 34-mile-long (55-kilometer-long) shoreline is one of the wildest and most remote in England. The six-mile (ten-kilometer) stretches between Combe Martin and Heddon’s Mouth, and from Countisbury to Glenthorne, boast such steep cliffs that the water can’t be reached by land and few places exist to beach even a small boat. Other parts of the coastline are covered with woodlands running right to the beach, a rare sight in Britain.

Moors and Valleys Exmoor is a rolling, open expanse coated with heather moorland and cut by wooded combes, or valleys. Here wild animals such as red deer share space with the sheep and cattle whose ceaseless grazing over the centuries has helped to shape the landscape itself.

• Top Cliffs The White Cliffs of Dover may be better known but the highest sea cliffs on the British mainland are found in Exmoor. Great Hangman, near Combe Martin, has a face some 800 feet (250 meters) high. Some of the park’s sea cliffs also feature spectacular waterfalls. Hollow Brook at Martinhoe is among the highest in Britain and plunges some 655 feet (200 meters) to the sea.

• Tidal Range The Bristol Channel has an enormous tidal range second only to that of Canada’s Bay of Fundy. The difference between high and low tides at Hinkley Point has been measured at up to 45 feet (13.7 meters).

• Wildlife The heath fritillary butterfly, or woodman’s follower, is one of Britain’s rarest but can be seen here along the fringes where forests border areas of open space. Exmoor ponies, several hundred of which roam the park, may be the closest living relative of the wild prehistoric steeds that once roamed Europe. The ponies aren’t wild, however; they are part of park and privately owned herds turned loose to graze on the moor.

Human History Humans have inhabited Exmoor for some 10,000 years and left behind tangible evidence of many a bygone era. Prehistoric standing stones, hut circles, and almost 400 burial mounds lie within the park’s borders. The Romans left fortifications behind, and three Norman castles survive. The medieval period saw the construction of priories and the landscape settled into a patchwork of farms and settlements, which, in rough form, still exists today.

How to Get There

Taunton, Tiverton Parkway, and Barnstaple are nearby rail centers; each is linked by bus to Exmoor. Exmoor itself is served by a network of local bus routes, and coaches can be flagged down anywhere on the moor. In peak summer months the Moor Rover carries everything from luggage and bikes to pets and makes moving from place to place throughout the park easy.

When to Visit

England’s southwest has a relatively mild climate year-round but conditions in Exmoor can vary widely over the distance of just five miles (eight kilometers). That’s enough ground to cover a climb from sea level to 1,706 feet (520 meters). High ground in Exmoor may have snow cover for a few weeks each winter but the park is certainly pleasant to visit in all seasons.

How to Visit

Watch the stars come out in some of England’s darkest skies. Meander the streets of the historic hamlets and villages scattered throughout the park. Examine thatched-roof buildings or lace up a pair of boots and explore more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) of footpaths and bridleways, including the Coleridge Way, which follows the footsteps of the famous poet through the landscape that inspired some of his best work.

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