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Don your boots for the Exmoor Spring Walking Fest

In the true spirit of a walking festival, the North Devon 7 Exmoor Spring Walking Festival is a celebration offering a choice of guided walks for all levels
Keen walkers and hikers are already rubbing wax into their hiking books in preparation for the . This 9-day event takes place the last weekend in April and spills over to include the first bank holiday weekend in May.

Exmoor – a hiker’s paradise

There are few places more appropriate than , a real hiker’s paradise, to host the UK’s largest and most scenic walking festival, often known simply as the Exmoor Walking Festival. Rather than being based in one location, this itinerant event takes place in four “Walkers are Welcome” Towns in North Devon.

The first two days of the event are in the Victorian harbour town of before it moves eastwards along the coast to scenic Lynmouth and Lynton, which straddles the pretty river gorge where the East and West Lyn Rivers converge. After two days, it’s “up sticks and onwards” to Porlock where you can rest your blisters for two days. The final host town is Dunster for the final May Day Bank Holiday weekend.

Started in 2000, the walking festival has around 36 guided walks for participants to take part in. The event is warm, friendly and informal, in keeping with the usual walkers’ attitude. For example, there is no great ribbon cutting ceremony and a speech from the local mayor to open the festival. Instead, there’s a welcome meeting in a local pub when everyone can get to meet the guides and the organizer over a pint of real ale.

The first Welcome Evening is usually held at the pub in Ilfracombe (but check the official website for details each year), with a free drink and nibbles for anyone who has booked a walk. Each of the consecutive host towns has a similar opening event, so attendees can choose to turn up and join in one or more stages of the Exmoor Walking Festival by attending the relevant Welcome Evening.

Local guides make the Exmoor Spring Walking Festival a Success

Many of the guides offer their services free of charge or are paid “in kind” to keep costs down for the festival. They always offer invaluable local knowledge and enthusiasm. Other key services which make the event such a success are the support of the wardens and rangers of the Exmoor National Park (the National Park generously underwrites the event), the , the and many local business sponsors.

If you live in the Exmoor area and want to know more, you can pick up a brochure of the walking festival in advance from places such as the Tourist Information Centre in Taunton, Oswald Bailey, Mountain Warehouse and Taunton Leisure. Otherwise, an online brochure is available.

You can prebook your chosen walks online, or on the booking line at 01271 863001. Here’s a tip – if you book 5 or more walks by phone you get 10% discount. You need to book early, as places are limited. Some walks include food; others require you to bring a packed lunch. Look for the dog-welcome symbol on certain walks if you want to bring your four-legged friend.

Exmoor Spring Walking Festival has walks to suit all abilities

If you’re wondering just what sort of walks to expect, there are various different grades from Easy to Moderate-Strenuous, graded by pace and changes in elevation. Lengths are equally broad in range, the shortest probably being the one mile, 1.5 hour long Short Stroll around Old Ilfracombe led by the Town Crier himself, no less! National Trust rangers lead walks along the Exmoor coastline, making good use of the . There are themed walks, such as Smugglers Haunts around Morthoe and you can have fun spotting the cheeky Flowerpot men on the Berrynarbor walk.

If you think this festival sounds like fun, then turn up solo or gather your walking friends and attend this great event, which promises wonderful scenery and like-minded company.

Have you attended the North Devon and Exmoor Spring Walking Festival? Perhaps you have a favourite walk in the area you can share with other visitors. We’d love your input in the comments below.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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