Exmoor is entirely enchanting. From the moment the motorway led us into the moorlands, I became wholeheartedly captivated by its expansive beauty. Straddling between Somerset and North Devon, the National Park is rightfully one of the UK’s Areas of Outstanding Beauty.
Miniature towns – each with family-run teahouses – are dotted between great, sweeping hills. Dramatic drives along narrow Jurassic paths are outlined by a toothed coastline, fishing villages balancing between the rocks and salty harbours. Before I’d even rested my head in our countryside cottage, I was planning return trips with future children in tow to Mummy’s favourite place.
Over the next few posts I will immerse in the adventures of Exmoor, beginning with a fantasy of thatched seaside cottages and charismatic castles.
Sitting on the edge of Exmoor’s Holnicote Estate, the small village of Bossington is a postcard photographer’s dream. A winding road of traditional thatched cottages stops a 5 minute walk from the sea, many offering handmade trinkets and produce for an honest fee. (If there’s one thing I admire about the English countryside, it’s a loyal sense of community whereby sellers leave their handcrafted goods in the hands of their customers, completely trusting that payment will be received).
But first a visit to a beloved local; Kitnors Tearooms and Garden. For over 50 years, this 15th century cottage has served daily handmade scones, cakes and seasonal lunches to the residents of Bossington and those who find themselves needing a cosy cuppa.
The spacious flower filled garden is English excellence enjoyed on a summer’s day. Teas, jams, clotted creams and even ice cream are all produced within the postcode, whilst other ingredients abide by the non-frozen or fussy packaging allowed rule.
Thick slices of countryside cheddar drenched in local chutney made for an excellent sandwich, whilst a fresh carrot and sweet potato soup served with cheesy toast warmed to the core. Fresh tea served in china and a slice of Victoria Sponge made us feel royally British, as friendly locals chatted and welcomed us to their home.
The stony path towards the ocean curled through farmland and high up hilltops, for which hikers climbed for elevated views. Pebbles and rocks as far as the eye could see made up for Bossington Beach, forcing us to ramble like baby deer for views out to the calm waves. A wind like none other poured in from the Atlantic Ocean, forcing my locks in every direction, my eyes leaking in its power.
Bossington’s next door neighbour rises above its stony beach between a climbing summit, looking down and out over the surrounding forests. The whitewashed Church of All Saints is a dog-friendly listed building with ancient artefacts including a 17th century chest.
Yet my insides butterflied for the handful of sunshine cottages that are home to a tearoom and gallery. I was sad to have missed the opening hours yet our reasons were not second-rate. A signpost pointed up to a ‘Bury Castle’ and naturally I felt obliged to discover what would be discovered at its peak.
A long and steep walk through some of the UK’s most towering trees led us up and up until we finally reached an open green space, edged with a short grassy ditch. Whilst perhaps expecting at least a pile of rubble (after all my calves were burning), I was thankfully less disappointed in the surrounding views.
Scanning for panoramas my eyes met a group of Exmoor’s famous residents. The chocolate brown ponies – although technically owned by someone – are wild in nature, roaming freely among the moors.
Slowly approaching step by step, we watched as they grazed, gradually paying us attention and becoming inquisitive into our presence on their patch of land.
A quick detour to our next point took us to Webbers Post, a small picnic spot with views over Horners Wood. A trail takes you down into the thick forest for plenty of historic walking paths however we choose to stop off and admire the cloudy darkening sky from above.
For optimum views of Exmoor’s palette of browns and lush greens, Dunkery Hill is a must. Less vertical and more lavishly spacious than our last uphill climb, a 15 minute walk took us to the summit. Here sits Dunkery Beacon, the highest point in Exmoor and second in Somerset.
I resisted the temptation to turn around until I reached a pile of rocks that told me I’d arrived. Sunglasses removed and a deep breath in I spun. It was beautiful. A blue chalkboard, still dusty in white clouds, illuminated a snakeskin of fields, hazy through the sheer distance between them and me.
On the other side the views reached out over the dense Horner Woods to the sea. I took a moment to remember my whereabouts. Was this really in England? The place I call home yet leave behind so often in search for overpowering landscapes?
No more will I rush to escape.
A short 10 minute drive from these three remarkable areas is the medieval village of Dunster. With over 200 listed buildings surrounding the sight of an ancient castle, reached twice a week on a traditional steam train, visitors are transported through a time machine into a journey that begins in the 17th century.
We became so entranced by walks among horned cows, overgrown trails and flooded streams that we forgot our purpose to see the town’s landmark.
Dunster Castle’s grounds are a match for its interiors, a winding spiral of gardens, exquisite foliage and peaking views over the cottages below. Since at least the Norman times, the castle has impressed its visitors, becoming a luxurious country home for the last 600 years to the Luttrell family.
Inside is perhaps are some of the most beautifully kept rooms I’ve yet seen among my visits to National Trust buildings. Collections of photo, divine décor and a library so stunning even Belle would be jealous.
Along with the renowned castle, Dunster also took us on a leisurely stroll through a restored working watermill and yet another row of beloved country cottages.
You could say I’ve become rather besotted with Exmoor. And that’s only half of it… literally; I have another lengthy post for you, this time exploring the dramatic cliffs and jungle valleys of the Heritage coastline. So stick around, but pack your bags because if you haven’t wanted to already, you’ll be booking an escapade to Exmoor in no time.