Between Somerset and Devon, along the northern coast of England's southwest peninsula, is Exmoor National Park, an unspoiled plateau of lonely moors. One of the smallest but most cherished national parks in Britain, it includes the wooded valleys of the rivers Exe and Barle, the Brendon Hills, a sweeping stretch of rocky coastline, and such sleepy but charming villages as Culbone, Selworthy, Parracombe, and Allerford. Bisected by a network of heavily eroded channels for brooks and streams, the park is distinctive for lichen-covered trees, gray-green grasses, gorse, and heather. The moors reach their highest point at Dunkery Beacon, 512m (1,707 ft.) above sea level.
Although the park boasts more than 1,127km (700 miles) of walking paths, most visitors stay on the coastal trail that winds around the bays and inlets of England's southwestern peninsula or along some of the shorter riverside trails. Of all the trails, our favorite is the Somerset and North Devon Coastal Path. It begins in the resort of Minehead in the east and goes along the coast all the way to Bude in the west. Few visitors have time to walk this entire coast, but if you leave Minehead in the morning you will have seen the path's most beautiful scenery by nightfall. For more information, contact the South West Coast Path Association at tel. 01752/896237 or www.southwestcoastpath.com.
The park's administrative headquarters is located in a 19th-century workhouse in the village of Dulverton, in Somerset, near the park's southern edge, where you can pick up the "Exmoor Visitor" brochure, listing events, guided walks, and visitor information. A program of walking tours is offered at least five times a week; tours cost from £3 to £5 per person, depending on the length of the walk. Children 15 and younger and students go for free. Themes include Woodland Walks, Moorland Walks, Bird-Watching Excursions, and Deer Spottings. Most of the tours last from 4 to 6 hours. Wear sturdy shoes and rain gear.