Moorland district in north Devon and west Somerset, southwest England, forming (with the coast from Minehead to Combe Martin) a national park since 1954. The park covers an area of around 7,700 ha/19,000 acres, and includes Dunkery Beacon, its highest point at 519 m/1,705 ft; and the Doone Valley.
Exmoor is thinly populated and remains isolated by relatively poor road connections. The principal settlements are the twin coastal resort towns of Lynton and Lynmouth in the north and Dulverton in the southeast; the resort town of Minehead lies just outside the national park to the northeast. Tourism and craft industries are important to the local economy. The moor provides grazing for Exmoor ponies, horned Exmoor sheep, and about 1,000 wild red deer. It is also the habitat of grouse, hawks, and falcons. Stag-hunting in the region attracts widespread controversy. Prehistoric remains, including early stone circles and barrows (burial mounds), are mainly located around the edge of the moor, settlement of the moor occurring around 1800 to 1500 BC. Iron Age hill forts include Shoulsbarrow Castle. Tarr Steps, an ancient packhorse bridge over the River Barle, is a simple, stone-slab clapper construction with 17 spans; it may date from the Bronze Age, although other estimates set it in the medieval period around 1400. Exmoor is the setting for R D Blackmore's romance Lorna Doone (1869).
A plateau of red sandstone and slate, Exmoor has a varied landscape, with grassy and marshy moorland as well as heathland, and substantial woodland covering about 10% of the area. The coastal region is characterized by a series of headlands with cliffs and wooded valleys. There are gentle contours in the Brendon Hills to the east, and inland is Exmoor Forest, at the heart of the moor, an area reserved for royal hunting until 1819. The River Exe rises in the uplands of the moor.
The area is subject to heavy rainfall. In August 1952 exceptionally intense rains caused the East and West Lyn rivers to flood Lynmouth, resulting in great destruction and several deaths. Its twin town Lynton, located 180 m/ 600 ft higher on the clifftop, escaped the torrent. The disaster influenced government policy for designing flood relief channels in the UK.
Wimbleball Reservoir, near Dulverton, is a large, pumped-storage facility built to save surplus flow from the Exe, excess water passing through an 805-m/2,640-ft tunnel under the national park. Water flow on the Exe has been regulated by this scheme since 1997. Fishing and sailing take place on the reservoir.
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