Take a walk on the wild side


- Credit: Archant

Now in its 13th year, the North Devon & Exmoor Walking Festival runs west to east, arriving in West Somerset on 1 May with walks around the Porlock and Dunster areas, with each walk described by length, pace, time and difficulty to enable walkers of all abilities to choose something for them in the company of local guides.

This festival began in 2000 and offers walkers of all levels the opportunity to explore the beautiful countryside in and around Exmoor, West Somerset and North Devon in the company of local and knowledgeable guides with more than 40 walks to choose from during the two-week event.

Walking festival organiser Bryan Cath said: “Almost half of the walks are new this year. There’s so much to see in the area, it is great to be able to introduce visitors – and local people – to places they may not have come across before. We are extremely lucky to have some excellent informative and enthusiastic guides who are delighted to share their local knowledge with our walkers too.”

The walks are based around four main centres for ease of travel and accommodation for visitors. Starting in the Ilfracombe area, the festival moves on to Lynton, then Porlock and finally to Dunster. Each area is holding a ‘welcome evening’ this year; a simple get-together in a local pub to meet the guides and fellow walkers.

Highlights in Porlock include a strenuous hike up Dunkery Beacon – Exmoor’s highest point – to appreciate some of the best views in the South West, and a gentle Bossington Butterfly Trail to spot early species such as Orange Tips, Small Coppers and Green Hairstreaks.

Finally the medieval town of Dunster plays host to the festival for the last three days over the May Day Bank holiday weekend, where there is a choice of 11 fascinating and informative town and country rambles. Those walkers considering attempting some of the long distance walks in the future will also appreciate The Macmillan Way West Sampler (6.5 miles) and the Abridged Coleridge Way Walk (8.5 miles) - from Roadwater to Wheddon Cross. The walk passes the highest point on the Coleridge Way at Lype Hill, with great all-round views. There’s also a chance to enjoy a hearty farm breakfast at Higher Rodhuish Farm before a walk goes up onto Withycombe Common offering wide views before entering woodland to follow an old coaching road.

“The walking festival is a fantastic way to discover the true Exmoor,” says Robert Downes, tourism officer at West Somerset Council. “There is no dabbling at the edges or just seeing honeypot tourist sites. This festival will allow visitors to immerse themselves in stunning scenery, discover places most tourists never see, and enjoy breathtaking views, wildlife and tranquillity that is unlike anywhere else in Britain. At the end of the walking day visitors can put their feet up and enjoy top quality accommodation, cosy pubs and the fantastic local food, beers and ciders that the area is renowned for.”

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Each walk is restricted to 15 people to ensure they get the most out of the guide – although popular walks may have higher numbers if a second guide is available.

There is a selection of walks lead by the Exmoor Rangers, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Trust wardens and the Crown Estate and there are walks for dogs and their owners.

The walks are divided into those under seven miles and those over seven miles – which organisers say seems to be the dividing line for many walkers as to a long walk or a more manageable walk.

Sturdy footwear is a must, ideally (worn-in) walking boots, along with waterproofs and/or windproofs. Guides will ensure walkers get the chance to use any binoculars and cameras during the walks. n

For more information on all the walks, and to order a brochure visit www.exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk. Or call 01271 863001 to book tickets. For places to stay in and around Exmoor see www.visit-Exmoor.co.uk

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