The National Trust is Europe’s largest conservation charity. On Exmoor they look after landscapes that are rich in wildlife, a wild coastline, a castle home and a house full of collections.
Heddon Valley: A favourite landscape of the Romantic poets with stunning walks, nearby the valley is also secluded Woody Bay and the evocatively named Hangman Hills. At the heart of the valley sits the historic Hunter’s Inn, a good place to relax after discovering the spectacular coastal, moorland and woodland walks. Nature highlights include one of the UK’s last surviving colonies of high brown fritillary butterflies which can be seen in June and July on the bracken-clad hillsides. Look for rich diversity of fungi in autumn.
Watersmeet: This area is where the lush wooded valleys of East Lyn and Hoar Oak Water meet the wild moorland of Kipscombe and the dramatic cliffs of Devon’s most northerly point, Foreland Point. At the heart of the valley is Watersmeet House, a 19th-century fishing lodge, which is now a tea garden, shop and information point.
Holnicote Estate: The vast 12,000 acres of the Holnicote Estate is nothing if not varied. Horner Wood, a National Nature Reserve, is one of Britain’s largest and most beautiful ancient oak woodlands. Two notable places are Webber’s Post, which sits above Horner Wood with great access to the high moorland, and Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor’s highest point, with great walking and cycling opportunities. The picturesque village of Selworthy offers timeless rural landscapes, thatched cottages and a medieval church. The long pebble beach of Bossington and the rivers nearby are all great places to wander and explore.
Dunster Castle: Dramatically sited on top of a tor, a castle has existed here since Norman times. Its impressive medieval gatehouse and ruined tower are a reminder of its turbulent history. The castle that you see today, owned by the Luttrell family for more than 600 years, became an elegant country home during the 19th century. The terraced garden displays varieties of Mediterranean and subtropical plants, while the tranquil riverside wooded garden below, with its natural play area, leads to the historic working watermill.
Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum: Hidden in the lichen-draped landscape of North Devon, Arlington is a surprise and a delight. The starkly classical exterior of the house gives no hints as to what lies inside, recently redisplayed to share the passions of the Chichester family who lived here. The stable block houses a nationally important display of more than 40 carriages, from grand state coaches to humble governess cars. The garden is restored to its colourful Victorian glory, and the conservatory’s exotic plants reveal the Chichesters’ world travel.