Mini Guide – Wild Wessex
The moors, cliffs and romantic woods of Wessex have inspired literary greats such as Thomas Hardy and Samuel Taylor Coleridge for centuries, and helped repopularise the Anglo-Saxon name of this ancient region
Moors, Hills & Heathland
Exmoor National Park
Exmoor is known for its broad, russet views. In the middle sits the higher moor, an expansive, other-worldly landscape harbouring the picturesque village of Exford. In the north, sheer, rock-strewn river valleys cut into the plateau and black cliffs lurch toward the sea. Life on Exmoor is attuned to the rhythm of the seasons.
New Forest National Park
With typical English irony, New Forest is anything but new-it was first proclaimed a royal hunting preserve in 1079. It’s also not much of a forest, being mostly heathland. Designated a national park in 2005, the forest is a joy to explore. Wild ponies graze, deer tiptoe and birds flit about. Photo-worthy villages dot the landscape, connected by walking and cycling trails.
The red sandstone hills known as the Quantocks trace a 12-mile curve across Somerset’s northern edge. A mix of moors, valleys and woods, these hills offer stirring views across the Bristol Channel to the Gower coast. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1956, the Quantocks receive far fewer visitors than Exmoor and Dartmoor, making them perfect for hikers and bikers.
The poster child of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, this immense 150-million-year-old Portland stone arch was created by a combination of massive earth movements and erosion. Today, it’s framed by shimmering bays; bring a swimsuit and head down the steps for a dip. You can park at the top of the cliffs, but it’s best to hike the coast path from Lulworth Cove (one mile).
The ‘Isle’ of Portland is a hard, high comma of rock with dramatic views, fused to the rest of Dorset by the ridge of 18-mile Chesil Beach. Its white limestone has been quarried for centuries, but these days it’s the water-sport facilities, birdlife and stark cliffs that make it worth a visit. Don’t miss the disused workings at Tout Quarry, which now house labyrinthine paths and sculptures hacked out of the rock by artists including Antony Gormley (near Fortuneswell).
Defined by its fossilised booty, Lyme Regis is surrounded by cliffs from which rock-hard relics of the past pop out repeatedly, exposed by the landslides of a retreating shoreline. The town is now a pivot point of the Unesco-listed Jurassic Coast – and fossil fever is forever in the air. Everyone, from serious palaeontologists to those out for a bit of fun, can head out coastal rummaging. Sandy beaches, plus some delightful places to sleep and eat, make this quaint spot even more attractive.