EXMOOR COTTAGE HOLIDAYS
North Devon and Exmoor rely upon visitors and this guide contains brief information of things to do, and places to go, to help you to get the most from your UK holiday. For a comprehensive list of links to local information please see our useful links page.
North Devon district encompasses the coast from Barnstaple to Lynton, and the area inland to South Molton. The west coast is flat at Barnstaple and Braunton alongside the estuary and there are miles of sandy beaches and high dunes at Braunton Burrows, a UNESCO Biosphere. The sandy beaches at Woolacombe and Croyde are ideal for families and have some of the best surfing in the UK. The north coast is characterised by high cliffs with stunning views, with the occasional steep valley leading to a small cove (for example at Lee Bay, Heddon’s Mouth, Woody Bay and Lee Abbey) and there are working harbours at Watermouth Cove and Ilfracombe. The highest point in North Devon is 480 metres above sea level at The Chains in Challacombe. The administrative and district centre is Barnstaple, the other main towns are South Molton, Braunton, Ilfracombe and Lynton.
Exmoor National Park covers part of North Devon and a larger part of Somerset. The north coast is characterised by high cliffs (which include the highest cliffs in England at Culbone Hill, over 300 metres) and the sea is accessed via steep sided valleys, for example at Heddon's Mouth, Woody Bay and Lynmouth. There is a unique water-powered cliff railway between the twin towns of Lynmouth and Lynton, and the surrounding area is a walkers paradise, with walks along a deep gorge at Watersmeet beside the East Lyn river, and around the spectacular Valley of Rocks, where the river used to flow into the sea over a giant waterfall. Historic villages include Porlock Weir, an ancient fishing village, and Dunster, where there is a Norman castle, and a medieval yarn market and dovecote. The highest point on Exmoor is Dunkery Beacon at 519 metres above sea level. The administrative centre of Exmoor National Park is in Dulverton, the other main towns are Porlock, Dunster and Lynton.
The main attractions of Exmoor and North Devon are the temperate weather and spectacular countryside, which varies from wide sandy beaches in the west, to tall cliffs and secret coves in the north. Inland there are many amazing drives, through undulating fields criss-crossed by hedgerows in the valleys, and across open moorland purple with heather on the hilltops. There is history at every turn, from small medieval field strips cultivated for over a thousand years, to wide open moorland occupied only by the ghosts of the Bronze Age. The land use is principally rural, but there are many interesting places to visit, and lots of visitor attractions and things to do for both children and adults.
There must be hundreds of good walks in North Devon and Exmoor, many take in Iron Age enclosures which seem to occupy the tops of all the most dramatic hills. A few walks are mentioned below, there are many more shown on the Exmoor National Park website and our walking page.
Country Walks: The Harepath is the main ancient ridgeway from England to Cornwall and runs right across Exmoor. Some of our favourite inland walks are at Chapman Barrows and Shoulsbury Castle near Challacombe (where there are prehistoric monuments from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages); from Simonsbath to Cow Castle (past an old copper mine called Wheal Eliza); along the river Barle from Withypool to Tarr Steps (a unique medieval clapper bridge); along the East Lyn at Watersmeet (where there is a tea room with excellent cakes!) and from Hawkridge down to the twin Iron Age enclosures of Brewer’s and Mouncey Castles. There is a lovely walk around Wistlandpound reservoir, which is fairly level and very easy going.
Cliff Tops: There are many spectacular cliff top walks on the north coast along the South West Coast Path, for example at Baggy Point near Mortehoe; Hillsborough promontory fort outside Ilfracombe; Heddon’s mouth at Trentishoe; the Valley of Rocks near Lynton; Countisbury Hill near Lynmouth and from Worthy near Porlock to Culbone Church.
Secret Coves: There are lots of hidden coves with delightful walks, for example at Lee Bay and Rapparee Cove near Ilfracombe, Blythe's Cove at Hele Bay, Watermouth Cove, Heddon's Mouth near Hunter’s Inn; and Woody Bay and Lee Bay near Lynton.
Wide Sandy Beaches: There are miles of golden sands along the west coast at Woolacombe (Time Out Number 1 best beach in the UK 2023), Putsborough, Croyde and Saunton Sands, ideal for surfing, sandcastles, swimming and sunbathing. Or you may prefer the huge sand dunes at Braunton Burrows, or the virtually deserted five mile beach from Saunton Sands to Crow Point.
Fishing & Rock Pools: Ilfracombe is the best place to catch sea fish from the pier, or to go out in a fishing boat. The best places for rock pools when the tide is out are Combe Martin beach and Hele Bay just outside Ilfracombe.
Family Attractions: Family Attractions include Exmoor Zoo, Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park and Watermouth Castle. There is a play gym Junglaroo in Barnstaple and some major attractions at The Big Sheep, The Milky Way, and Crealy Adventure Park. For some of these we often have special offers for our guests, please ask.
Ilfracombe: Visit Ilfracombe harbour with its medieval pier and chapel, and controversial sculpture ‘Verity’ by the artist Damian Hirst. There is a fascinating museum, and a small aquarium, amazing home-made fudge from Roly’s Fudge on the Quay, and boat trips are available for fishing, sightseeing, or to visit Lundy (an island 12 miles off the coast with a fascinating history). Walk around Capstone Hill and visit Tunnels Beaches, or around the working harbour to Raparee Cove and up to Hillsborough (where there is an Iron-Age promontory fort). Just outside Ilfracombe is Hele Corn Mill, a C16th working water-powered mill which has a tea room with excellent cakes, and C11th Chambercombe Manor, which is said to be haunted with a secret room, a priest hole and a hidden tunnel.
Lynton & Lynmouth: The twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth, nicknamed ‘Little Switzerland’ because of the houses dotted around the steep wooded hills, are joined by a unique water powered cliff railway, and there is amazing scenery in every direction, at Hollerday Hill, the Valley of Rocks, Watersmeet, and Countisbury Hill. Visit the hydro-electric installation along the West Lyn, or the submarine forest (visible on the beach at very low tides).
Dunster: Dunster is the most atmospheric medieval town on Exmoor, with an ancient castle (and even more ancient hillforts on the adjoining hill), C14th dovecote (with original wooden ‘machinery’ for gathering young birds) and characterful C17th yarn market which has an octagonal plan. There are lots of interesting shops and charming cobbled streets, and just outside Dunster is the tallest tree in England (at just over 60 metres).
Barnstaple: Barnstaple is the main shopping centre for North Devon and there has been a river crossing here since before the Roman period (the Romans called it Stapol, meaning ‘post’, presumably that marking the crossing). The Saxons, or Bearda, occupied it in the C8th, hence the name Bearda-Stapol (Barnstaple). A huge castle mound was built in the middle of the town soon after the Norman conquest. The main supermarkets are in Barnstaple (Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda and Lidl) and there is a Pannier Market most days next to ‘Butchers Row’, which is the best place to go for fresh produce.
Instow & Appledore: Instow is an attractive Victorian seaside town, with a long sandy beach, and if the tide is in you can catch the ferry across the estuary to Appledore, a charming fishing village with narrow winding streets.
Clovelly: Further away is the charming privately owned fishing village Clovelly, where private cars are not permitted. There is a very charming and steep cobbled street down to the sea - we suggest you take the Land Rover service back up the hill!
Scenic Drives: Nearly every country lane is a scenic drive and the roads around Exmoor are one of the AA’s 10 top drives in Britain. The road along the north coast from Porlock to Ilfracombe has spectacular views, especially at Countisbury Hill and the Valley of Rocks; and very steep hairpin bends at Porlock and Lynton. The best moorland roads are from Challacombe to Weddon Cross; from Simonsbath to Lynmouth; from Exford to Porlock; and along the southern ridgeway from Challacombe to Dulverton.
Dark Sky Reserve: Most of Exmoor has been declared an International Dark Sky Reserve - ideal for looking at the night sky - because of the lack of light pollution.
Sports & Adventure: There are many sporting activities in the region including coarse and sea fishing, horse riding, golfing, and lots of adventure activities such as shooting, climbing, coasteering, swimming, paint balling, high wire and quad biking.
Car Free Exmoor: There are several initiatives to enable you to enjoy Exmoor without your car.
Further Information: There are local Tourist Information Centres in Combe Martin, Ilfracombe, Lynton, and Woolacombe. The shop & Post Office in Challacombe is a useful local Information Point. Exmoor National Park provides a wealth of information about the local geology and history. See the weather today and a ten day forecast.
Fly over part of Exmoor in this drone video made by a guest of Exmoor Cottage Holidays: