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Exmoor

Gentler than Dartmoor at the other end of Devon, the high plateau of Exmoor is criss-crossed by numerous streams and slashed by a few deep river valleys. It rises up steeply from the gentler farmland and eventually stretches to the steep cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel. Much of the high moor is in Somerset. Devon hosts the lovely wooded valleys, isolated farmhouses and spectacular cliffs of the north coast. It is here that R. D. Blackmore set his most famous novel, Lorna Doone. Many of the scenes described in the book are actual places on Exmoor, such as Lark Coombe and Doone Gate.

Part of the boundary between the two counties is marked by a ridge, containing such places as Breakneck Hole and Setta Barrow. The rest of the way, Dane’s Brook, divides Devon and Somerset, before flowing into the River Barle near Dulverton. Red Deer, Britain’s largest wild animals, roam the moor as they have done for thousands of years. Exmoor Ponies have been here just as long and are though to be the ancestors of the wild horses of Europe. Buzzards circling overhead are a common feature of the Exmoor scenery.

Exmoor is built up from strata of sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, slate and limestone. The moors support gorse and heather but the valleys are heavily wooded, some with indigenous species but others with conifers planted by the Forestry Commission. Numerous barrows, standing stones and stone circles testify that Exmoor has been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age and possibly earlier. The Devon banks are also of interest; these are field boundaries consisting of high, stone-sided, hedge topped banks.

The moor was a Royal Forest during the reign of William the Conqueror and for many years afterwards. It fell into private hands in the 19th century, when an unsuccessful attempt was made to exploit its mineral wealth. In 1954, it became a National Park, a large chunk of which is now owned by the National Trust. However a large portion of Exmoor is still privately owned and farmed.

Opened in 1982 Exmoor Zoo is a unique and unusual zoo to visit! It is an ideal family venue. The zoo specialises in smaller animals, providing living spaces for many creatures no longer seen in the city zoos. The careful planting of shrubs and trees provides a relaxing and natural atmosphere within the park.

The twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth lie on the edge of Exmoor. It is not far from here that one finds the highest point of the moor in Devon. This is Kinsford Gate, a spot with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. In the foothills of the moor lies the lovely old market town of South Molton but the real gateway to the moor from Devon is probably the larger town of Barnstaple.

The tiny village of West Anstey lies close to the Somerset border and on the very edge of Exmoor. It has an interesting church, founded in Norman times. The Two Moors Way footpath passes close to the hamlet. Most of the Devon side of Exmoor is gently rolling hills on which sheep graze above the pretty wooded valleys. The cliffs on the north coast are a complete contrast. Here, where the land meets the sea in dramatic style, is found some of the wildness one expects from the moor. But even the gentler parts of Exmoor can show a different face when the weather is stormy or when the roads are blocked by winter snow drifts.

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Exmoor towns & villages

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