12 Sep Exmoor: 3 Short Walks For Fantastic Photography
Exmoor will absolutely take your breath away!
Exmoor National Park nestles against the rugged north coast of Devon and Somerset in the South West of England and stretches inland across dramatic valleys and open moorland. I love it at all times of year, but you can’t beat the heather covered moors on a summer’s day or the broad leaved woodlands in autumn, which are perfect for photography.
A Photography Trip With My Son
My son is due to start uni in September, so we wanted to spend a few days together before the mayhem begins. We chose Exmoor because it’s a fairly easy drive from home (less travelling means more time for fun) and holds a lot of good memories of childhood camping trips.
The one ‘problem’ for me is that
My son doesn't usually walk much farther than the fridge!
And, as you know, walking and hiking is my life! His idea was a photography trip, which meant finding opportunities to photograph the misty moors and local wildlife without having to walk too far. A handful of places sprang to mind, and these 3 short walks fit the bill perfectly.
But first, for a long weekend you’ll need somewhere to pitch up and we stayed at Westermill Farm.
Where We Camped
Westermill Farm is a gem of a campsite hidden away right in the middle of the moor (you can also book into one of their self-catering cottages). It’s about 2 miles outside Exford and offers 3 camping fields beside a river with simple, well-kept modern facilities and a small farm shop. I love it for its peaceful atmosphere, idyllic location, simplicity and deep, dark skies. Which is why I’ve been coming back on and off for over 30 years (that’s before my son was even born, eek!).
It makes a great base to explore from, but public transport from Exford is infrequent/non-existent at certain times of year. So a car or a bike will make life easier (unless of course you’re with someone that enjoys longer distance walking too!).
Walk 1: Tarr Steps, 2 Miles
Tarr Steps is perfect for photographing birds, where you can spot dippers flying low over the fast flowing River Barle (we saw 2). Dippers are an ‘amber conservation status’ bird, which means their numbers are in decline in the UK.
As well as the bird life, there’s the picturesque river walk and the well photographed medieval clapper bridge to enjoy. We followed the signposted 2 mile circular walk that heads out across Tarr Steps, along the river to another (modern) bridge and back along the other side of the river. It’s a straightforward, fairly level walk on an obvious track (although the walk from the car park down to Tarr Steps is pretty steep).
There’s a vibrant pub/hotel at Tarr Steps, which is in the perfect spot for refreshment after your (not so) hard walk! Visit Tarr Farm Inn for details.
Walk 2: Watersmeet, 5 Miles
This circular walk heads inland from Lynmouth on the coast (where there are plenty of car parks) alongside the sparkling East Lyn river, through one of the deepest valleys in the country. The return leg wends its way across the top of the valley with far reaching views out to sea.
It’s a walk full of variety including shaded oak woods, a fast flowing rocky river and waterfall, as well as open countryside and the coastal town of Lynmouth. There’s even the chance of a pit stop at the National Trust cafe at Watersmeet (I recommend the cream teas!).
As well as landscape photography there’s lots of wildlife photography to be had, including fritillary butterflies and the possibility of Atlantic Salmon returning to spawn.
Download my GPS file for this walk.
Walk 3: Dunkery Beacon
Walk To The Highest Point On Exmoor In Less Than A Mile
Dunkery Beacon offers spectacular views for very little effort, just make sure you head out on a really clear day! You’ll find a National Trust car park at Dunkery Gate, which is down a narrow lane signposted from Wheddon Cross on the A396.
You can see far across the Bristol Channel to the hills of Wales, and inland across the moor to Dartmoor and the stunning, rolling landscape of Somerset. And there are plenty of wide, easy to follow (signposted) tracks up to the top of the Beacon. You can take an out and back stroll from the car park, which is about a mile, or join several tracks together for a longer circular walk. Why not take a picnic as well as your camera? (You might even catch a glimpse of a shoot or a hunt going on, as we did, if you enjoy a spectacle.)
For those who want to stretch their legs, you can walk to Dunkery from Exford, which is about 5 miles (and back again of course!)
3 More Places We Love For Photography
Valley Of Rocks
The Valley Of Rocks is a must see, vertiginous walk along the dramatic sea cliffs of north Devon
Dunster is a quintessential, unspoiled medieval town, which is perfect for picture post-card shots. There’s also a fabulous walk up through woodland to the Iron Age hill fort at Bats Castle, where you can enjoy panoramic views while you search for rare butterflies (I was also lucky to have a close encounter with a stag some years ago – I didn’t have a camera though!)
Withypool has everything the photographer could want within easy walking distance of the village. There are walks along the River Barle, tracks onto the open moor that join the Two Moors Way, plus old cottages and an Inn in the village centre (as well as vintage petrol pumps!). During the tourist season there’s also a lovely cafe serving lunches, cakes, tea and coffee. For those that prefer longer walks you’ll be pleased to know it’s only a few miles from Exford! (You can also walk to Tarr Steps from the top of the village).
Exmoor Dark Skies Festival
Exmoor National Park is special for lots of reasons, but one reason in particular makes it a great destination for star-gazing. This is because Exmoor is one of the darkest places in the country, so dark in fact that it’s an International Dark Sky Reserve. Once you’ve experienced this ‘dark sky’ for yourself you’ll appreciate the paradoxical name, because nothing could be brighter than a sky full of twinkling stars! So, if you’ve a hankering to photograph the Milky Way, Exmoor is the place to go.
One of the best times to visit is during the annual Dark Skies Festival, which is on from the 14th of October to the 3rd of November this year (2019). There are plenty of guided evening walks on offer, whether you fancy star-gazing (including photography workshops) or looking for nocturnal wild life.
Longer Walks And Hikes On Exmoor
Hikers can choose from a number of long distance walks across Exmoor, including
- The Two Moors Way – Devon’s Coast to Coast (102 miles), which begins in Ivybridge (near Plymouth) and crosses both Dartmoor and Exmoor to finish on the coast at Lynmouth
- The Coleridge Way (51 miles) follows in the footsteps of the Romantic poets
- and a section of the 63o mile South West Coast Path. The Exmoor section starts from Minehead at the very beginning of the trail to Ilfracombe on the western edge (40 miles) – and I can highly recommend it!