With two rushing rivers – Hoar Oak Water and the East Lyn River – merging in a series of spectacular cascades and rapids it is hardly surprising that Watersmeet is one of Exmoor’s most popular visitor’s attractions. Its deep, wooded valley is doubly protected for not only does it lie within the heart of the National Park 340 acres were gifted to the National Trust. Watersmeet House, now a café but originally built as a romantic fishing lodge, and with car parking nearby makes a good place to begin and end a walk.
There are numerous paths that can be taken from here and most link up to create walks of varying lengths. They hug the valley bottom or rise steeply to the tops of the surrounding hills so it is possible for almost anyone, regardless of their ability to have an enjoyable outing. It should be remembered that even in dry weather the paths can be quite rugged so good, solid footwear is always recommended. A stout stick or walking poles won’t go amiss, especially if you choose the hillier paths.
Apart from the noise and excitement of the rivers, the other awe-inspiring feature of Watersmeet is its woodland which clings to the steep, three hundred foot sides of the valley. These are some of the best examples of ‘hanging’ woods in the country and are relics of the ancient woodland that once covered lowland Britain. Mostly the trees are sessile oak although there are some fine specimens of beech in the better soil of the valley bottom. There are also a number of Whitebeam species that can only be found here or in neighbouring woodlands making them of national importance.
As soon as you start walking, any crowds are soon left behind and you have the splendour of the place to yourself. Following the East Lyn River upstream the remains of a nineteenth century lime kiln can be explored. Lime was brought by sea from Wales to be burned before spreading onto the fields to counteract the land’s extreme acidity. Fuel for the kilns was provided by the woodland which was coppiced and some of this timber was also sent back to Wales to be used in the iron foundries.
Wildlife abounds; there are dippers and herons by the water’s edge, and red deer, badgers and otters can all be seen by the fortunate few. On quieter stretches of the river the calls of raven and buzzard can be heard overhead.
After an hour or so, the tiny hamlet of Rockford appears, consisting of just a few cottages and an inn – another great excuse for a stop. From here you can trace your route back to Watersmeet or continue along the river to the village of Brendon to make a longer, circular walk.
Watersmeet is open to the public all year round and every season has its special moments. In the spring, the valley is lush and green; in summer the sunlight filters through the canopy to play on the water’s surface; in autumn there are the changing colours and in winter, the extraordinary beauty of the gnarled trees adorned with grey lichens come to the fore. It needs to be visited more than just once!