Exmoor supports one of England’s largest wild red deer populations, best experienced in autumn when the annual ‘rutting’ season sees stags bellowing, charging at each other and clashing horns in an attempt to impress prospective mates. Despite their numbers, these skittish creatures are notoriously difficult to spot without some local knowledge.
The Exmoor National Park Authority runs regular wildlife-themed guided walks (free), which include evening deer-spotting hikes. Or head out on an organised jeep safari to combine scenic sightseeing with a couple of hours of off-road wildlife-watching.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the formidable hills, cycling is hugely popular on Exmoor. Several sections of the National Cycle Network (NCN; www.sustrans.org.uk) cross the park, including the West Country Way (NCN Route 3) from Bristol to Padstow, and Devon Coast to Coast (NCN Route 27), between Ilfracombe and Plymouth, via Dartmoor and Exmoor.
Exmoor is also one of the county’s most exhilarating off-road cycling destinations, with a wealth of bridleways and permitted tracks. The Exmoor National Park Authority has produced a colour-coded off-road cycle map (£10); buy it at tourist offices.
Exmoor Adventures runs a five-hour mountain-biking skills course (£60) and also rents mountain bikes (£25 per day).
Pony Trekking & Horse Riding
Exmoor is prime riding country, with stables offering pony and horse treks from around £30 to £46 for a two-hour ride.
The open moors and a profusion of marked bridleways make Exmoor an excellent area for hiking. The best-known routes are the Somerset & North Devon Coast Path, which is part of the South West Coast Path (www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk), and the Exmoor section of the Two Moors Way, which starts in Lynmouth and travels south to Dartmoor and beyond.
Another superb route is the Coleridge Way (www.coleridgeway.co.uk), which winds for 51 miles through Exmoor, the Brendon Hills and the Quantocks. Part of the 180-mile Tarka Trail cuts through the park: join it at Combe Martin, hike along the cliffs to Lynton and Lynmouth, then head across the moor towards Barnstaple.
Organised walks run by the national park authority (www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk) are held throughout the year and include deer safaris, nightjar birdwatching walks and dark-sky strolls.
Star-gazing on Exmoor
Exmoor holds the distinction of being named Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, in recognition of the night-time inky blackness overhead. But what does that mean in practice? Namely, a whole host of local organisations striving to limit light pollution, plus, for visitors, some simply spectacular star displays.
The Exmoor National Park Authority (www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk) runs occasional moonlit strolls and has produced the Dark Skies Guide, which includes star charts and maps pinpointing the best light-free spots. Pick one up at a visitor centre or download it from the authority's website. It also runs a Dark Skies Festival and hires out suitable telescopes (£25 per night).
For optimum stargazing, central, higher Exmoor is best – try Brandon Two Gates (on the B3223) or Webber’s Post (just north of Dunkery Beacon).