Steepling cliffs, wide open moorland and ancient woods give a fabulous variety of backdrops for outdoor adventures in this south west national park
Wild, beautiful and peaceful, Exmoor National Park is a landscape in which you can lose yourself without getting lost. The vast heather moors cover about a quarter of the park, dominating its upland areas and delivering wide open views. Looking out to sea, there are 37 miles of beach and cliffs, including the highest coastline in England and Wales. Great Hangman is the sheerest cliff, plunging 244 metres (800ft) to the brine. This is a relatively sheltered coastline, which has allowed ancient woodland to survive so close to the sea. This varied terrain provides a rich habitat for wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled for red deer, otters and the free roaming Exmoor ponies, and eyes to the skies for curlew, kestrel and merlin, as well as peregrine falcons along the sea-facing cliffs. The same terrain also serves as your passport to exceptional walks, trail runs, road rides and mountain biking tracks, as well as sea kayaking and climbing.
Whether you fancy coastal views or moorland vistas, there are exceptional running opportunities on Exmoor, especially
off-road, where 1,000 kilometres of footpaths and bridleways criss-cross the national park. If you fancy adding competition to your runs, the Exmoor Stagger, organised by Minehead Running Club, is a 15-mile trail race with 3,600ft of ascent as it climbs from Minehead to Dunkery Beacon (the highest point on Exmoor at 519m/1702ft) and back (23rd
October, mineheadrunningclub.co.uk). For a mix of distances, the Coastal Trail Series offers a 10K, half-marathon, marathon, 33-mile ultra and 45-mile ultra plus (8th April 2017, endurancelife.com).
Mountain bike here
Armed with a bike and Ordnance Survey map, there are 400 miles of bridleway squeezed into Exmoor to explore, from steep muddy tracks through woodland, to exposed bridleways across the moors. For a varied ride with spectacular views, head west from Minehead along the South West Coast Path to Selworthy Beacon, and loop back via Selworthy. For guided biking holidays in the national park, see WildBike (£215 for two days, half-board, wildbike.co.uk).
Road cycle here
Quiet roads, steep climbs, thrilling descents and mesmerising views make Exmoor a road cycling haven. For the sheer challenge, the ascent of Dunkery Beacon is a badge of honour. The Exmoor Beast is a popular sportive ride that loops through Exmoor’s highlights, with a choice of 29-, 76- and 100-mile routes, packing in as much as 3,109m/10,200ft of ascent ( September, exmoorbeast.org).
Walking may seem like a low-octane activity, but you won’t be thinking that when you sit with your feet up at the end of a day or two on Exmoor. The South West Coast Path starts its epic journey from Somerset to Dorset in Exmoor, with a rollercoaster route out of Minehead. The 102-mile Two Moors Way links Lynmouth on Exmoor’s coast with Ivybridge on the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park. For an “easyish” day walk, our pick would be the Lynton Circular, which includes coastal views, the spellbinding Valley of the Rocks, and woodland (goo.gl/PiRN46).
Experienced climbers can tackle a number of routes along the towering cliffs of Exmoor’s coastline. Beginners are better advised to head to the Valley of the Rocks, west of Lynmouth, for more straightforward ascents. The beach at Lynmouth also offers rich opportunities for bouldering, with challenges for all levels of climber and no need for ropes. Download a free bouldering guide (tinyurl.com/hhbmkry).