If you visit Exmoor for the first time it will charm and change you. It will be love-at-first-sight. This is a place to stir our poetic genius, unleash our imagination to roam and set our spirit soaring.
Unlike its sister, near-by Dartmoor, Exmoor has no rocky outcrops (‘Tors’). Instead green mounded hills with deep wooded valleys drape the landscape like a duvet. On the coast the duvet dips over deeply wooded slopes onto craggy rocks and the sea. From its cliff tops there are clear views across the water to South Wales. In late summer the hill tops, purple and gold with heather and gorse, are home to red deer and Exmoor ponies and perhaps the wild ‘Beast of Exmoor’ (which some say may be a large wild cat – but remember the imagination does roam on Exmoor!).
This is a place of exquisite beauty and calm, a much-loved National Park. Many visitors have been drawn here, including me. Some have settled in these glorious hills/moors, including several notable writers. It’s a welcoming place – one local pub has this notice outside the door:
‘Children, muddy boots and soggy dogs all welcome here’!
The Western edge of Exmoor lies in Devon, but as I heard one local Somerset man say ‘the air is always sweeter when you cross back into Somerset’! Most of us visitors would say both counties are equal, each with its own delightful charms.
Dunkery Beacon is the highest point on Exmoor – the heather-covered ‘purple-headed mountain’ of the favourite old children’s hymn ‘All things Bright and Beautiful‘.
Coleridge and the Wordsworths
Coleridge, William and Dorothy Wordsworth all fell in love with the Quantocks and Exmoor. As great walkers, from their Quantock homes they walked along the cliffs to Lynmouth. You can walk this way-marked Coleridge Way today. They loved the Lynton area, as Coleridge wrote to a friend:
“We will go on a roam to Lynton and Lynmouth, which if you come in May will be in all their pride of woods and waterfalls, not to speak of the august cliffs, and the green ocean, and the Vast Valley of Stones all of which live disdainful of the seasons or accept new honours only from the winter’s snow.”
It was a prodigious year of writing for Samuel, William and Dorothy. ‘Romantic Poetry’, with its deep use of the imagination set free in a beautiful landscape, was born here.
Lorna Doone Country
In this romantic, lonely spot R D Blackmoor’s book ‘Lorna Doone’ has left an indelible trace and created a place full of atmosphere. One mecca for tourists will be Oare and Badgeworthy Water that feature in the book. The tragic story was based on local legends. But did the book create the atmosphere here, or was it first the landscape? Such a place seems to demand a romantic story.
Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter roamed these Exmoor valleys and rivers. It was here he was chased down the East Lyn river by otter hounds to the sea at Lynmouth. The Tarka Trail way-marked route is very popular. Visitors also visit Lynmouth downstream, to see the site of the 1952 flood disaster there.
Lee Abbey – Place of Blessing
Next to the Valley of the Rocks lies Lee Abbey with its 288 acre estate nestled within its own valley looking down on beautiful Lee Bay (above photo.) This land was once owned by the old Cistercian abbey at Forde. Now it is a Christian retreat, holiday and conference centre run by an international Christian community since it was founded in 1946.
The Estate includes woodlands, fields and streams running down to the private beach. One of the streams provides Lee Abbey with renewable hydroelectric power. All sorts come to this welcoming place. Some as day visitors, others to stay, seeking spiritual refreshment and a holiday rest in this quiet, beautiful place on the edge of Exmoor. Young people from many different countries come to Lee Abbey to work as resident team members within the Community.
We have stayed here as a family and one summer our daughter worked as a team member. A number of friends have been here in recent years and returned with high praise after an uplifting stay. This is a place to find rest, peace and inspiration. Here you can encounter Grace as you meet with Jesus and let your spirit soar.
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Top featured Photo by Martin Tester -Geograph