Driving Tour: Dunster to Lynton

  • Start Dunster
  • End Lynton
  • Distance 32 miles
  • Duration One day

At Dunster take time to explore rusty-red Dunster Castle, which sits on a forested hill in the centre of town. A structure with turrets and robust walls, its most striking features went up in the 1800s, but parts date from the 13th century. Take a quick stroll in the grounds; heading east beside the river leads to a working watermill. Dunster's largely 15th-century church is nearby – once you're there, track down the 16th-century dovecote just behind it.

Next motor south down the A396, with Exmoor’s hills rising to the west. After turning at Wheddon Cross, the green village of Exford provides an excuse for a stroll. The 16th-century Exmoor White Horse provides the perfect opportunity for refreshment; this atmospheric coaching inn has a welcoming bar and an attractive riverside beer terrace.

Drive uphill, past Exford post office, following Porlock signs. After you rattle across a cattle grid, the road climbs, gorse takes over, and buzzards soar. Next comes a long, glorious drive across open moorland; depending on the season, the landscape will be either heather-purple or honey-brown. As you crest a hill the sea and beach appear far below.

Once you reach the A39 you have a choice of two routes to Porlock – both supremely picturesque. The first involves a £2.50 toll. For this turn left, and just under a mile later make a sharp right onto the New Road Toll Road, a scenic route that sweeps through pine forests and around U-bends, revealing stretches of shore. Alternatively, to avoid the toll, turn right onto the A39 for a second-gear descent down the infamous 1:4 Porlock Hill; expect hairpin bends, escape lanes and ‘try your brakes’ signs.

At Porlock, park and wander the appealing village's shopping street – perhaps dropping by the tourist office for more info on the local area, or heading into the beam-rich Ship Inn – one-time hang-out of Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Then it's time to drive to Porlock Weir, a bewitching pocket-sized stone quay. It's framed by a string of cottages, a shingle beach, a stony harbour approach and sweeping cliffs. Strolling the shingle beach to the west of the weir takes you to the nature reserve of the Porlock Ridge and Saltmarsh SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Porlock Weir also has a scattering of shops and another great pub – like Porlock's, this one's also called the Ship Inn (they're known locally as Top Ship and Bottom Ship) and has a very popular beer garden.

Next, drive up the lane between the pub and the Locanda On The Weir; the road cuts sharply right, signed Worthy and Ashley Combe. At the white gate below the thatched stone arch, pay your £2 toll. A bouncing road now climbs beside a wooded stream, and sea glimpses emerge below. At the A39, motor towards Lynmouth through a moorland plateau framed by the sea, wind-bent trees and tufted grass.

First you'll reach Countisbury Hill, which plunges down and is a cliff-clinging, brake-burner of a descent. The road signs here speak volumes: ‘Rockfalls’, ‘12% gradient’ and, chillingly, ‘Cyclists Advised to Walk’. A few laybys provide safe places to pause and take in the views.

Eventually you emerge beside the harbour at Lynmouth. Look out for the Flood Memorial Hall, which charts the story of the August night in 1952 when torrents of water thundered down Lynmouth's precipitous hills, claiming 34 lives. The Ancient Mariner pub (quality grub) and Rising Sun (akin to restaurant fare) are prime places to eat and drink here. Then stroll west along the seafront to the Cliff Railway. This example of Victorian ingenuity sees tiny carriages on rails being powered up (and guided down) the sheer hillside by the force of water alternately being jettisoned and taken on board. Once at the top, stroll to St Mary's Church, where the cliff-side graveyard gives views back along Countisbury Hill and your route so far. Hop back onto the cliff railway for your descent and walk back to the car.

Drive the A39 towards Lynton, via Watersmeet – another first- and second-gear ascent, which hugs the steep-sided and mossy gorge. At Waters­meet, stop for the half-mile stroll to the charming waterfalls. Finally, drive up to Lynton, where the Vanilla Pod is an ideal spot for supper.