The Ups & Downs Of Exmoor – Exmoor Perambulation

Two years ago I convinced a number of my family and friends that it would be a great idea to do the Exmoor Perambulation … an annual walk around the boundary of the ancient royal forest of Exmoor which dates back 725 years. The only problem was I injured my knee several weeks beforehand and could not join them. I couldn’t do it last year either … but this year I finally got to the start and our intrepid team of four (three newbies and one with experience of the two previous years) completed the half-distance of 15.5 miles.

The great thing about the Perambulation is that you get to explore beautiful parts of Exmoor that are not normally accessible to the public. But don’t expect it to be a stroll in the park. It is one of the most challenging walks on Exmoor. There are a number of quite steep coombes to be carefully negotiated (one in particular Exe Cleeve is just before the half-way point). There is also what initially appears to be an easy 1.5 mile stage which requires a lot of concentration over very uneven, ankle-turning terrain. Other parts can get quite boggy and so you may well require at least one change of socks!.

The half-distance comprises 5 stages with 4 manned check-points, starting from the Pinkery Outdoor Centre near Challacombe. If you are doing the full distance of 31 miles then you need to make the half-way point at Picked Stones by 14:30 or you will not be allowed to continue. You can of course, register for the full distance and decide to opt out half-way. A mini bus will take you from Picked Stones back to the Pinkery Centre where you will find some welcome refreshments.

One thing is certain the walk is sufficiently challenging for anyone that completes it to feel a great sense of achievement. If 15.5 miles sounds too easy then go for the full 31 miles. Some people attempt to run it too!

I won’t be running it but I could see definitely see myself attempting the 31 miles at some point …

The start of the Exmoor Perambulation at the Pinkery Outdoor Centre is just 30 mins away from Rock Cottage by car. Why not book for next year knowing that you have a cosy cottage to relax in for a few days after your exertions … The date for next year is likely to be 17 June, the closest Saturday to summer solstice and maximum daylight hours. The Perambulation is now being managed by Channel Adventure. They are planning to promote it more next year and have promised to confirm the date soon. See Exmoor Perambulation website for further details.


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Lundy – An Island Adventure

I have always wanted to go to the island of Lundy. We did attempt to go a couple of years ago for my birthday but the conditions were deemed unsuitable for landing and the trip was cancelled. Instead we contented ourselves with a visit to the excellent Broomhill Sculpture Gardens and the wonderful Terre Madre restaurant where they served us Lundy crab. This went some way to making up for the disappointment.

This weekend, however, we finally made it. We sailed from Ilfracomble Quay on the supply and passenger vessel the MS Oldenburg leaving at 10 am. Drinks and food were available on board for this two hour journey as well as some wonderful high concentration ginger biscuits for anyone feeling queasy. The weather at sea on the outbound leg was described as moderate – this meant there was a swell and quite a lot of motion (carrying coffee was a challenge!) and it was also raining. Not surprisingly as we approached Lundy it was shrouded in mist.

After disembarking at the landing jetty we had an initial climb up to the village. For those wishing to save a bit of energy it was possible to get a lift to the village with the ranger in one of three land rovers on the island.  Our initial priority was to find the Marisco Tavern and to get some lunch before heading out on a circular walk of the southern half of the island. The tavern was very friendly and very efficient. They are clearly set up to deal with the sudden influx of people from the boat … which happens three times most weeks from April to October and four times at the height of the summer.

After eating we checked out the shop (selling food, other essentials and of course souvenirs) and then headed off up the eastern side of the island. At that point it was still quite misty but no longer raining. We didn’t get much of a view of the sea or the plants on that side but we did see sika deer and soay sheep and it was still very atmospheric. On our way up we passed the remains of cottages and an old hospital. We continued up until we reached ‘Halfway Wall’. We then crossed to the western side of the island by following the line of the wall which was outlined by a lovely carpet of bluebells. Halfway Wall ends at Jenny’s Cove which is the best place on the island to see the famous puffins as well as some interesting rock formations such as the Cheeses and the Pyramid. By the way ‘Lund-ey’ is Norse for puffin island. Luckily by this stage the mist had lifted and we had good visibility. However, despite scouring the cliffs and seeing many different sea birds … we did not spot any puffins. We learned later that you need to go out onto one of the promontories and look back inland at the cliff. The puffin population had been declining on Lundy but since rats were eradicated from the island a few years ago it is now gradually increasing again.

Our return walk took a bit longer because of the nature of the terrain. You do need to be careful right near the cliff edges but a little further in there is plenty of springy turf to walk on. The carpets of pink sea thrift are a feature near the cliff tops at this time of year. There are very few trees on Lundy and none out on the moor . You will see the hardy Lundy ponies … but do be careful as one inquisitive pony did try and give me a nip once it realised we had no food.

We knew we were getting close to the village again when we sighted the Old Lighthouse (now used as holiday accommodation). From there you can cut across the fields back to the shop and tavern for a final cup of tea and / or to purchase any souvenirs. You need to leave 25 to 30 minutes to get back down to the jetty for the boat. They ask you to be there for 4 pm and will leave as soon as everyone is on-board even if that’s earlier than scheduled departure time of 4:30 pm.

Our return voyage was calmer and also quicker as we were moving in the same direction as the tide. Spending two hours on a boat means the opportunity to meet people. On the way over we met and chatted to the resident Lundy painter and decorator who was returning from a break. He told us that there were 26 Lundy residents (3 seasonal) and that vehicles on Lundy amounted to 3 landrovers, 2 tractors and 4 quad bikes. On the return trip we sat with a Dutch couple who were on a six week tour of the UK – and amongst other things were trying to visit as many UK islands as possible. They had been fortunate enough to see puffins …

On return to dry land at Ilfracombe we couldn’t leave without the obligatory fish and chips in one of the harbour restaurants …. which rounded off the day nicely.

The Quay at Ilfracombe is under 30 mins drive from Rock Cottage. You can also travel to Lundy from Bideford (about the same distance away from Rock Cottage and also a two hour voyage). There are fewer Bideford sailings but you get more time on the island – around six or seven hours instead of four. After a Bideford sailing the MS Oldenburg can offer a trip around the island so that you can get your bearings before setting off to explore. This takes about one hour.

You must ring 01271 863636 after 8 pm the day before to check if conditions are suitable for sailing and to confirm departure time. An easterly wind will cause problems on landing and so the captain will usually cancel if that is the case.

It is possible to stay on Lundy for a few days in one of several buildings restored and maintained by the Landmark trust. These range from a stone cottage that sleeps just one person to a Georgian villa that can accommodate twelve people. You can also stay in the lighthouse (see above), a castle, a converted pigsty or a camp site … depending on your required level of comfort and affordability. Since on-line bookings have been introduced the popularity has increased so you need to get in early. 

There are leaflets on Lundy and its wildlife above and below the waves in Rock Cottage and there is also a small book with four different circular walks which you are welcome to borrow during your stay.



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Orienteering For Fun

For the first time this year, the Exmoor Walking Festival, featured an ‘Orienteering For Fun’ walk. We decided to give it a go.

We are pretty keen walkers but  have never had any kind of map-reading instruction. It was high time to put this right. Some of us completed the Exmoor Perambulation half distance last year and were planning to do it again this year but without a number of unplanned detours!

It was a bit of an inauspicious start as two of us were travelling together by car and due to excess chatting we managed to miss our turn onto the A39 in the direction of Porlock and Horner. Not a good start to get lost on the way to an orienteering course! However the walk was well worth the journey and unexpected detour to Combe Martin .. and we were almost not late!!!!

We met our guide John, who turned out to be very patient as well as an enthusiastic orienteer. The first thing he got us to do was to pace out 10m. The second was to hold the map correctly. All in all we learned a number of new techniques which will be really helpful in any walking situation, but particularly for the Perambulation:

  • Orienting map and using thumb for direction
  • Using markers on map such as earth banks or changes in vegetation
  • Assessing best / easiest route by looking at contours etc (or by allowing someone else to do the hard work if it is just too difficult!)
  • How to work in pairs with compass if no obvious markers or misty
  • How to use the pacing above to measure distance.

I have never been in the position of being on a perfectly good path and then willingly plunging down into, what looks like an impassable wood, or across uneven ground with recently felled trees in order to find the next ‘control’ and then jot down the 4 letters to prove you have been there. You really do see things from a different perspective. And you become determined to find that next control!

The views were great and the woods around the Horner area beautiful at that time of year with a carpet of whortleberries. Halfway through the walk we stopped at a charming tea-house in Horner which did exceptionally good (and welcome) coffee and walnut cake.

I would recommend this walk to anyone wanting to learn the basics of orienteering. I don’t think we put John off from leading the walk again next year. In fact he has since told us that he has decided to give this year’s Perambulation a go.

Great … we will just follow him!!!!

For details of the Exmoor Walking Festival see website. Rock Cottage is a great place to base yourself for the week. You can come back from a full days walking and rest in your own cosy 17C cottage. Why not book for next year

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The Sounds, Colours & Scents of Spring …

We love the arrival of Spring in North Devon. The colours and smells are so fresh. The primroses and other plants in the hedgerows are gorgeous. The house martins arrive and from May start to nest in the eaves of Rock Cottage. The blackbird sings from the chimney. With the arrival of longer and warmer days there is so much more choice when it comes to walking.

Favourite walks for this time of year include the circular routes from Tarr Steps via Knaphill and from Woody Bay via Hunters Inn (part of the South-West coastal path). Hunters Inn itself is also a great place to start from as there are a number of walks heading off in different directions. What’s more you can end all of them with a cream tea (the scones are massive!). We also love walking from the village of Hawksridge on Exmoor as there are a number of interesting circular routes to choose from depending on ability and time available. Nearby Dulverton also boasts some good walks and a great tea room.

We also look forward to the Spring North Devon & Exmoor Walking Festival which this year runs from 2 to 9 May starting in North Devon with a trip to Lundy and moving gradually across to West Somerset. The festival offers around 4 different walks a day with a range of distances and levels of difficulty and some with particular themes such as wildlife, railways and family histories.

We have an extensive selection of maps and one-page guides for many of our own favourite walks and these are available for our guests to use during their stay at Rock Cottage.

View On Return Leg of Woody Bay Circular Walk

View On Return Leg of Woody Bay Circular Walk

View Back To Woody Bay From South West Coastal Path

View Back To Woody Bay From South West Coastal Path


Tarr Steps (Pre-Storm)

Tarr Steps (Pre-Storm)


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Wonderful Winter Walks …

We love the Tarka Trail at this time of year. You can walk from Barnstaple to Braunton or from Barnstaple to Fremington Quay and spot all the birds that make the Taw / Torridge estuary their winter home including golden plover, curlew, red shank and sometimes even spoonbill.

See the attached helpful leaflet by the Northern Devon Coast and Countryside Service’ (NDCCS) entitled ‘A Year On The Trail.

This time of year is also perfect for trying out our local 3 mile circular walk from Goodleigh village. This walk takes you through the village and the woods, down into the valley and eventually back up on to the ridge from where you get a lovely view of Goodleigh on one side and the Taw / Torridge estuary on the other. You then return via the single track road that runs from Landkey to Goodleigh. After the final climb up the hill you arrive in the middle of the village and you can end your walk with a visit to the friendly New Inn or head straight back to Rock Cottage to relax in front of a cosy fire ….

We have an extensive selection of maps and one-page guides for many of our favourite walks – Tarka Trail and local Goodleigh walk included – and these are available for our guests to use during their stay at Rock Cottage.

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On Yer Bike!

We have always loved to cycle when on holiday. When we were regular visitors to a lovely mill cottage near Padstow in Cornwall with our young daughter, we would hire bikes and a children’s ‘chariot’ as we used to call it and set off on the Camel Trail from Wadebridge either back to Padstow or in the other direction towards Bodmin. In later years my husband & daughter loved to share a tandem.

Now that we live in North Devon we have discovered the wonderful Tarka Trail. My daughter is now 20, but I still managed to persuade her to hire a bike with me this summer for half a day and we set off happily from the Barnstaple Old Bridge, following the signs to Instow.

Starting off on a lovely smooth path, which is charactistic of the shared-use section of the Tarka Trail between Braunton and Meeth, we made good progress. Before we knew it we had cycled 2 or so miles and arrived at Fremington Quay. The old station has been converted into a Cafe and Heritage Centre. 150 years ago Fremington Quay was a busy port with a deep-water quay and a horse-drawn link to Barnstaple and used to import and export all sorts of cargo from around the world for onward transport into Devon and Cornwall. Imports included coal, lime and seed potatoes from Ireland. A key export was ball clay. In the mid 19th Century it was the most important port between Bristol and Lands End.

Although it took a little while for our food to arrive (being freshly cooked) it was well worth it. An hour later, feeling a little full from the unnecessary but delicious chocolate cake, and after a quick look around the Heritage Centre, we set off again covering another 4 miles to the Instow Signal Box, past the former power station at Yelland. By the time we reached Instow we were beginning to get a little saddle sore so, although we did carry on for 3 more miles towards Bideford (East of the Water), we stopped short of the station. We were also slightly concerned that we might not get the bikes back by 5 o’clock.

On the return trip we were cycling against the wind so it did take a little longer. We stopped for a short break and a very welcome ice cream at Fremington Quay before continuing back to Barnstaple arriving at the cycle hire shop at 16:58!

We are looking forward to further Tarka Trail cycle trips and also walks with family and friends. You can actually take your bike on the little ferry that goes across the bay between Instow and pretty Appledore, every 20 mins or so, and we are planning to do this with friends in the Autumn. We have previously walked to Braunton and back and this would make a decent leisurely cycle ride of 12 or more miles.  When we are feeling fit we would also like to cycle the 14 miles there and back to the old Torrington station , now known as the Puffing Billy (serving more refreshments!)

Information on the Tarka Trail is available to guests at Rock Cottage. If you bring your own bikes there is a good place, out of sight, to secure them. Otherwise we would recommend for cycle hire. 

Fremington Quay cafe is open all year round except for 3 days at Easter, Christmas & New Year. Food is sourced, where possible, from the West Country and prepared to order.

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Revolutions from Rock Cottage

My partner and I have stayed at Rock Cottage before. The first time around we kicked back, relaxed and enjoyed the scenic backdrop of the north Devon countryside. During our first visit I also spotted the tourism guide for the great Tarka Trail. Being an avid cyclist with a need to train (for Dartmoor Classic 2014 no less!) I devised, on our second visit, a simple route that would take me from the doorstep of Rock Cottage to Great Torrington – and back via the Tarka Trail.

There are all manner of guides on-line, but the main one, which is a recommended read can be found here: The trail is suited for walkers and cyclists and I met both on my ride. You can pick any part of the trail to do, there are numerous access points and the trail runs right from Braunton to Meeth.

I chose to pick up the trail in Barnstaple (the north and south routes separate through Barnstaple – check the map) so the easiest thing to do is head for the train station signs and then the Tarka Tennis club and continue with the river Taw on your right. Follow the signs to Bideford and keep going! I have to say that we had the first of the sunniest weekends on our stay and the Tarka trail runs right alongside the river Taw and river Torridge so needless to say, the backdrop for my ride was stunning.

Two tips for other riders out there tempted by this beautiful part of North Devon – make sure you have a bell as the Tarka trail welcomes many visitors! And don’t run your tires at 100 psi. The trail, while very flat, get’s a little bumpy in places (says more about my unforgiving saddle than anything!).

Another amazing weekend at Rock Cottage and I very much look forward to our return when I will be able to complete the north bound section of the Tarka trail to Ilfracombe. I’ve heard this is an equally stunning stretch of North Devon.

Written By: Paul Smith, Rock Cottage Guest & Cycling Enthusiast, March 2014

If you are keen on cycling and/or walking and love the idea of staying in a 17th Century thatched holiday cottage in beautiful North Devon then come for a visit to Rock Cottage (see our website above). Like Paul, you are welcome to borrow maps of the Tarka Trail to plan your route. We also have a perfect place behind the cottage, with wrought iron railings, to secure your bikes. Alternatively you can hire bikes in Barnstaple.

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Filed under Cycling, Family, North Devon, Places to Visit, Tarka Trail, Ways To Unwind