Descending into the valley of the East Lyn at Watersmeet.


Exmoor NT Basecamp,

North Devon

12th - 14th September 2008



  Winston's Path to Watersmeet.


We set off from the Countisbury NT Basecamp Bunkhouse Saturday morning after breakfast. It was going to be a glorious day. Following the signs that indicated we were on Winstons Path, we descended the slopes of the valley down to the river, branching off to have a look at Watersmeet House, a former fishing lodge and used today as an information centre, tea room and shop by the National Trust, who have owned it since 1996. The fishing lodge, which dates from approximately 1832, stands at the bottom of a deep gorge at the confluence of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water. The site has been a tea garden since 1901. We then initially made the mistake of continuing upstream along the East Lyn which would eventually have taken us through Brendon (where we had been the previous day). Instead we turned back and picked up the path along the Hoar Oak Water until we reached Hillsford Bridge and the entrance to Combe Park, run by the National Trust.

From here we left the gorge and ascended through the park and out onto the barren moorlands of Exmoor. This continued for some time until we reached a stream where we stopped for lunch. To our surprise, a foxhunt came by although, hopefully, with the enforced ban, no foxes were actually being hunted. They disappeared over the horizon and eventually we headed off in a similar direction. We eventually descended back into the gorge of the East Lyn and made our way along to Watersmeet once again, where we stopped for tea, before returning to Countisbury.


Setting off down Winston's Path, the A39 to Lynmouth on the right.


Winston's Path descends into the valley below.


The East Lyn River near Watersmeet.


Watersmeet House, a National Trust information office and tea room.


At the entrance to Combe Park at Hillsford Bridge; A tea break and route planning session.


Combe Park, a National Trust site.


Exmoor is a National Park situated on the Bristol Channel coast of South West England. The park straddles two counties with 71% of the park located in Somerset and 29% located in Devon. The total area of the park covers 692.8 square kilometres of hilly open moorland and includes 55 kilometres of coast. It is primarily an upland area with a dispersed population living mainly in small villages and hamlets. The largest settlements are Porlock, Dulverton, Lynton and Lynmouth, which together contain almost 40% of the National Park population. Before it was a park, Exmoor was a  Royal Forest and hunting ground, which was sold off in 1818. Several areas of the moor have been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the flora and fauna. This title earns the site some legal protection from development, damage, and neglect.



Combe Park, Exmoor: Vanda with camera in hand; Martin demonstrates to the group he doesn't have a drinking problem, lifting his right hand and letting it run down the back of his throat.


Combe House at the entrance to the park.


Combe Park, Exmoor National Park.


The landscape of Exmoor is described as 'semi-natural' as it has been influenced by human activity over thousands of years. At the end of the Ice Age (10-12,000 years ago) the climate  improved and vegetation began to grow.  It is believed that 8,000 years ago the majority of Exmoor was continuous oak woodland.  As man began to settle, the landscape changed as agricultural 'technology' and ways of life evolved.  The result of this human interaction is the wonderful diversity and variety that is Exmoor today.

Hedgebanks are confined to the West Country (Somerset, Devon and Cornwall), are unusual features and feature widely on Exmoor as field and common boundaries.  They consist of a bank of earth, typically 1-2 m high with a hedge growing on top.  Sometimes the sides of the bank have 'ditching' - faced with stone which varies in character across the Moor.  In the early 19th century the Acland family (landowners with a huge estate on the Moor) experimented with various forms of hedge to top the banks and found that beech was the most successful.  Beech grew higher on Exmoor than elsewhere, was of low 'logging' value so the locals left it alone and when thinned and 'layed' formed a good wind and stock proof barrier.


Anne Young and Phil Newton getting into a determined stride; Tim Porter and Martin Lighten assess the route.


Moving out into the sunshine and across the moorlands of Exmoor.


Grazing sheep creates a surreal scene on the Exmoor landscape.


In 1993 Exmoor was also designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA). Shortly after the designation of Exmoor National Park in 1954 the moorland that the park was charged with maintaining and enhancing came under threat from agricultural improvement. The ensuing ‘moorland conflict’ eventually led to a pioneering system of moorland management agreements. The moorland management agreements have an important place in the transformation of agricultural policy and the development and social acceptance amongst farmers and landowners of the concept that farmers should be paid for their stewardship of the environment.

National Parks in the UK began life as a result of the 1949 'National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act' of Parliament.  The purposes of National Park Authorities were revised by the Environment Act of 1995, and are to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area, promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public and inn pursuing the above, seek to foster the social and economic well-being of their local communities.


Rolling hills and gorges of the windswept Exmoor landscape.


The stunning moorlands and gorges of Exmoor, rich in a diversity of flora and fauna.


What does Exmoor look like today ?

  • High rolling moorland.  Approximately 27% of the National Park is actually 'moorland'. The rest is mainly farmland.  Both the heather and grass moors are internationally important for their wildlife and scenic beauty.  High ground of this nature is unusual in southern England.

  • The Exmoor 'plateau' is an area of unglaciated upland (250-500m) approximately 200 million years old - some 180 million years older than the Alps in Europe.  It is thought to rank among the oldest features on the Earths surface.

  • A rugged coast.  Exmoors northern boundary (34 miles/54km) is the Bristol Channel and stretches from Combe Martin to Minehead.  The cliffs along this coastline mainly face North or NE and are protected from the prevailing South Westerly winds.  They are the highest cliffs in England (Great Hangman is the highest sheer cliff at 800ft/244m).  The sheltered aspect has allowed the development of coastal woodland which is predominantly oak.  The woods between The Foreland and Porlock represent the longest stretch of coastal woodland in England and Wales and run right down to the shore in many places. The rare Exmoor 'hogs-back' cliffs are dramatic and awe-inspiring.  The Exmoor coast is one of the most unspoilt and best protected stretches of coastline in England and Wales.

  • Ancient woodlands.  Much of the high ground features steep, woodland covered valleys (called combes).  Much of the woodland is ancient sessile oak.  Birch, beech, ash, rowan, unique varieties of whitebeam and various 'thorns' also feature.

  • Rivers and streams.  The very nature of the Exmoor area has determined that the only farming possible on the high ground is sheep or cattle grazing.  So there is very little to pollute Exmoors watercourses.  The relatively fast flowing brooks and streams support a wide variety of plants and animals, including otters, kingfishers, goosanders, salmon and trout.

  • The 'cultural' landscape.  Dotted across this wild, 'natural' place are the farmsteads, villages and hamlets where the people who have shaped Exmoor have lived and worked for generations.


Approaching a small stream on the fern-covered Exmoor landscape around lunchtime.


Exmoor has an abundance of ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens - Martin and Vanda stroll through this natural countryside.


Derelict barn on Exmoor near a stream, an idyllic setting for dinner and a nap.

The East Lyn which starts as the Upper East Lyn at Malmsmead (formed by two minor tributaries, the Oare Water and Badgeworthy Water it then flows for several miles, past Brendon and makes confluence with Hoar Oak Water at Watersmeet, where Watersmeet House is located. Continuing on, the river is squeezed between a narrow gorge section, upon exit follows on for another 4 km until the river meets with the West Lyn River and flows into the Bristol Channel at Lynmouth. The dominant river which also originates in Exmoor is the River Exe, which rises near the village of Simonsbath in Somerset, near the Bristol Channel coast, but flows more or less directly due south, so that most of its length lies in Devon. It reaches the sea at the Exe Estuary on the south (English Channel) coast of Devon.


Lunch break (L-R): John Adams, John Robertson, Bob Smith and Phil Newton - anyone for crisps?


Leaving the stream after lunch to continue across the moors.


Foxhunt on Exmoor - a modern hybrid of styles.

With its spectacular moorland, rich upland oak woodland and stunning coastline, it’s not surprising that Exmoor supports a wealth of wildlife. It has an abundance of ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens and habitats such as heath, blanket bog and western oak woods, which are internationally rare. Approximately 19,300 ha (or 28%) of Exmoor National Park is specially designated by UK and European law to protect its distinctive wildlife. About 12,600 ha of that area has been selected by Government under the European Habitats Directive as a Special Area of Conservation. There are 3 National Nature Reserves within the National Park and 18 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Exmoor is a windswept yet beautiful landscape and its hedgebanks are a distinctive feature.


A typical example of Exmoor hedgebanks, consisting of a bank of earth, typically 1-2 m high with a hedge growing on top - often beech trees were used for this purpose.


Exmoor farmland is often at odds with the need to protect the natural moorlands. Less intensively used farmland is generally more valuable for wildlife.


Amidst scenes of Exmoor sheep and cattle farming, John Robertson, John Adams and Martin pause for a tea break.


Much of the high ground of Exmoor features steep, woodland covered valleys (called combes). Beech trees grow at greater altitudes on Exmoor than anywhere else in Britain.


Stopping at Watersmeet for tea at the end of the day's walk - what could be more relaxing?



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