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Where Buzzards Fly Free: Exmoor National Park

by Geoff Bannister, guest writer

For over ten years since early retirement, I have lived in or on the edge of the Exmoor National Park. It has become my back garden, a place of great delight and pleasure. In this article, I hope to briefly introduce readers to the delights of this area.

Exmoor in Winter by Geoff Bannister Exmoor lies on the south side of the Bristol Channel, facing South Wales, two-thirds lying in West Somerset and the balance in North Devon. It is one of the smallest of the National Parks but in its 265 square miles it brings together the best of English scenery almost in miniature. In perhaps an hour and a half, a walker can move from a wooded valley with a rushing rock-strewn river to open, rolling moorland and return to the start along the top of some of the highest sea cliffs in England. Small villages and hamlets hide along narrow hedge-bordered lanes awaiting visitors.

Porlock village courtesy Geoff Bannister Some, like my own village of Porlock, share the tourists with a working community of farmers and are almost self-sufficient for their inhabitants. In the height of the season, you can seek the crowds or avoid them. Play tourist in honeypots such as Dunster, Lynmouth, Horner or Tarr Steps if you wish, or ride the longest preserved railway in the UK for 20 miles from Minehead

Dunkery courtesy Geoff Bannister For solitude head out onto the slopes of Dunkery Beacon or the remote high moor of The Chains west of Simonsbath where you may walk for an hour or more and perhaps meet three or four people. Take yourself along the spectacular coastline with its views of South Wales; watch buzzards and kestrels circling in the sky and watch red deer eyeing you from the skyline silhouetted against a clear blue sky.

Selworthy Woods courtesy Geoff Bannister To finish, let me tempt you with one of my favourite walks. Head west along the A39 from Minehead and turn after 5 miles at Allerford following the Bossington signs. After about a mile, park near the entrance to Lynch Country House (grid reference: SS 901478). Follow the tarmac lane leading past the house. After 300 yards, the road becomes a compacted track. At a junction of paths, go straight on, following signs for Selworthy Beacon, through a gate into Lynch Combe. After 200 yards of climbing, turn left through a gate with a "No Riding" sign and follow this track through the woods.

Continue straight ahead when the path comes into the open. Head for an old disused lookout tower which you will soon see ahead of you. Continue along the cliff top path which soon turns inland and becomes a long zig-zag track bringing you to the spine of Hurlstone Point. Turn left and climb further to meet a wider, level path leading to a crossing at the head of Hurlstone Combe.

Go straight ahead remaining high up on the side of the combe. The path gradually swings round the side of the hill, rounds the top of Church Combe and re-enters the woods. At a crossing with a bridleway, turn right downhill which will lead you straight back to your start point. Allow an hour and a half. Take your camera.

Article and photos courtesy Geoff Bannister.

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