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Hiking in Exmoor National Park : September 2015

I will begin my 2015 blogs describing my recent visit to Exmoor National Park. My daughter Rachael, currently  working in London UK, had given me a hiking trip for my 65th birthday. She organized it through HF Holidays. Our destination was Holnicote House, a National Trust Home operated by HF Holidays near  Selworthy, a small village within the Exmoor National Park in Somerset.

It was a tremendous 3 day retreat. HF Holidays is one of Britain’s largest walking and outdoor leisure holiday specialist.  They have been in business over 100 years and every year over 50,000 guest travel with them in the UK and other destinations beyond. In the UK they operate 20 Country Houses. Holnicote House was one of them. Although a very old house, the rooms had been completely renovated and updated. Our accommodations were first class.

Holnicote House : A National Trust House

Holnicote House : A National Trust House

Holnicote House

Holnicote House

The holiday included full home cooked board and most importantly guided walks in the area.

All of the HFHoliday guides are volunteers..many of them for a long time. Both of our guides had been doing multiple walking trips with them for well over 10 years. The house was full ( I think about 40 guests). Every night the guides would go over the next days walking trips ( easy, medium and hard) and Rachael would rule that we were there for a challenge so ‘hard’ it would be for us.

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The guests with the exception of Rachael were all 50+. You can imagine how delighted they were to have a ‘young’ person in their midst. Rachael quickly figured out that in this crowd, I should have no difficulty with the ‘hard’ walk. And indeed I did not, although there were several guests much older than I who easily surpassed my ‘walking capability’. Our ‘hard’ walk each day had about 8-10 in the group—a perfect size in our view. We met 2 wonderful women from Denmark whom we hit it off with on the hikes. They also were always game for a drink in the bar after the days hike.

Moor Sheep

Moor Sheep

IMG_4495The hikes were outstanding!! the scenery spectacular, the spots along the way of interest both geographically and historically. Each day was a full day. Day one we walked down to Lynmoth. In Lynmoth we took a cliff rail way. It was a funicular cliff lift powered by water.  From Lynmoth climbed to the Valley of the Rocks and then on to Lee Bay.IMG_4567

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We ascended to a high level path above Lynto and then over to Cleaves to Watersmeet. The walk was 11 miles ( 17.5 km)  in total with 2000 feet of ascent ( whew) and 2400 feet of descent ( hard on the knees)

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The next day we hiked directly from Holnicote House ( day one we had taken a bus to our starting point) from Alleford to Bossington and along a long pebble beach to join the South West Coast Path, and then up to Selworthy Beacon and finishing at the lovely tea house in Selworthy.

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While we had full days, there was still so much more to see and do. I am sorry I missed the town of Selworthy. It is a small picturesque village of thatched cottages. owned by the National Trust ( more on that later). We glimpsed Dunster Castle on our way but did not have time to explore.

So a little about the National Trust. As noted above the National Trust owned the house we stayed in ( although operated by HF Holidays), it owned the village of Selworthy and Dunster Castle. I had also seen several signs along our hikes denoting National Trust, so my curiosity took me to the web. It turns out that the National Trust is a charity that works to preserve and protect historic spaces and places – for ever for everyone.

They were founded in 1895 by three passionate victorians interested in preserving outdoor spaces. Today they look after historic houses, gardens, mills, coastlines, forests, farmlands, moorlands, islands, castles, nature reserves, villages and pubs.. Here are just a few of the interesting facts about the National Trust.

  • they are one of the UK’s largest farmers, with more than 618,000 acres of land and 2,000 tenant farmers
  • they own and run 61 historical pubs, 49 churches 9 monasteries
  • they own 59 villages
  • they look after 775 miles of coastline—some of the best beaches and coastal paths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • they have over 60,000 volunteers contributing 3.1 million hours of their time—equal to 1590 full time staff.
  • they have over 4 million members

Quite the organization I would say!!!

Exmoor  was designated a National Park in 1954, in recognition of the outstanding beauty, wildness and tranquility of the moorlands which dominates its landscapes. The moors and heaths of Exmoor are wide open areas overlooking the whole of the West Somerset, North Devon and the Bristol Channel Coast. But Exmoor National Park is not a wilderness. It is a living and working landscape with many settlements from small towns and picturesque villages to tiny hamlets and isolated farmsteads.

The coastline within the National Park stretches for (59 km) 37 miles. It is outstanding for both its scenery and its wildlife and was one of the prime reasons for the designation of Exmoor as a National Park. Exmoor has the highest coastline in England and Wales with coastal hills rising to 433m (1421ft).

Seeing wild ponies on the moor is a highlight for many hikers.IMG_4504

We saw both feral goats and the Exmoor ponies on the moors. The Exmoor pony is one of a number that are native to Britain. I learned that they are only wild in so far as the the herds roam freely on the moor. In fact they all belong to someone.  A number of years ago there was a fear that the ponies might become extinct. Today there are 11 privately owned herds that run on the Exmoor National Park

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The National Trust Holnicote Estate is located in Exmoor and makes up 12,000 acres of the  Exmoor National Park. All of the National Trust estates, and cottages in Exmoor are easily identifiable by their yellow painted walls.. a lovely colour making the homes quite distinguishable.

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All in all a really terrific start to my fall time in the UK.