For many R.D. Blackmore's novel, Lorna Doone, set about Brendon in Devon and Oare in Somerset provides an extra appeal for the park - as do associations with the poet, Coleridge.
Exmoor earned National Park status in 1954 and is named after its main river, the River Exe, whose source is near Simonsbath, Somerset.
Most of the 267 square miles(693 km²) of Exmoor is open heath and moorland. The highest point on Exmoor is Dunkery Beacon, at 1704 ft (519 m), also the highest point in Somerset.
Exmoor has 34 miles (55 km) of dramatic coastline including the highest sea cliffs in England. The South West Coast Path passes along these cliffs and was voted Britain's favourite trail in 2006.
Flora and fauna
Some moors are covered by a variety of grasses and sedges, while others are dominated by heather. Land is mainly used for livestock, although there are some areas which are cultivated such as the Brendon Hills.
Sheep have grazed on the moors for more than 3000 years and traditional breeds include Exmoor Horn, Cheviot and Whiteface Dartmoor and Greyface Dartmoor sheep. Devon red cattle are also farmed in the area.
Exmoor ponies can be seen roaming freely on the moors. They are a race rather than a breed of pony, and are the closest breed remaining in Europe to Wild Horses. The ponies are rounded up once a year to be marked and checked over.
Red deer have a stronghold on the moor and can be seen on quiet hillsides in remote areas, particularly in the early morning.
The famous Beast of Exmoor is reputed to haunt the moor, with many sightings since the 1960s. It is possibly a Cougar or Black Leopard which was released sometime in the 1960s or 1970s after a law passed making it illegal for them to be kept in captivity outside zoos. It has been blamed for many sheep kills over the years.
The moorland habitat is also home to hundreds of species of birds and insects. Birds seen on the moor include Merlin, Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Curlew, European Stonechat, Dipper, Dartford Warbler and Ring Ouzel.
There will be a new boat service from Swansea to nearby Ilfracombe to the west, starting in Easter 2010.
Villages below are in the county of Somerset unless otherwise stated.
Brendon' (Devon) - in 'Lorna Doone' country.
Dulverton - a large and attractive village on the River Barle.
Dunster - retains a central yarn market building and has a castle above the village.
Lynton and Lynmouth (Devon) - hillside and coastal villages with a funicular between them.
Oare - centre of 'Lorna Doone' country, where Carver Doone shot Lorna in the church on her wedding day with John Ridd.
Porlock - large village with picturesque houses.
Porlock Weir - delightful coastal village and the start of a superb 5 mile cliff walk to Culbone Church
Selworthy - tiny but one of the most striking. Thatched cottages around the green, a fine church and great views from Selworthy Beacon.
Winsford - fine inland village, where a small tributary joins the River Exe with a thatched pub and numerous bridges.
Other beauty spots
Tarr Steps' - a clapper bridge on the Barle near Dulverton.
Valley of the Rocks (Devon) - spectacular clifftop road from Lynton - not a valley in the normal sense.
Watersmeet (Devon) - where the East and West Lyn meet.
Exmoor is a great area for walking. . To get great enjoyment from this no particular fitness level is required, although there is plenty to satisfy long distance walkers too.
Heddon's Gate Hotel (A tranquil country house hotel set on the steep slopes of the wooded Heddon Valley), Martinhoe, Parracombe, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 4PZ, ☎ 01598 763481 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Half board £75 - £101 pppn.