It isn’t often I’m up before sunrise. Usually I leave that to Hubbie, who loves nothing better than welcoming a new day out on a hillside, wrapped up warmly with hands clasped firmly around a thermal mug of coffee. Me, I like sunrises too. But I like my bed even more, especially when it’s as cosy as the one in the Exmoor cottage that would be our home for the next few days.
Yet as I lay there half awake, listening to nature outside beginning to revive itself as night gradually slipped away, I realised I didn’t want to miss out on seeing the first orange tendrils of sun caressing the valley. So scrambling out of bed I pulled on a couple of jumpers over my pyjamas, completing the look with my favourite pink wellies, and slipped out of the stable-style door to join Hubbie in the garden.
But there was one problem. The sun was nowhere to be seen.
Apparently the clocks had gone forward the night before, something that had escaped our notice entirely. So I could’ve had another whole hour in bed after all. Not amused. Still, as the mists slowly lifted from the hillside, the pheasants began their strange guttural calls, and the local owl who didn’t give a hoot whether it was night or day uttered a greeting, I decided there was nowhere else I’d rather be.
The perfect Exmoor cottage holiday
We were enjoying a relaxing Exmoor cottage holiday with Classic Cottages, who are specialists in hunting down romantic and cosy couples retreats in the south west of England. Pitt Farm Cottage is hidden away in a tiny hamlet called Skilgate on the edge of Exmoor, surrounded by rolling hills and narrow leafy lanes with those amazingly high hedges that are famous down in Somerset and Devon. It means that driving around every corner is an adventure, you just never know what you’re going to see. A sweeping panorama, a bank of gently swaying bluebells, or a stubborn pheasant standing imperiously in the centre of the lane, as if to say ‘this is my patch’.
It had been a tremendously hectic start to the year with multiple trips, conferences, and the saga of our passports being stolen. We hadn’t had a day ‘off’ this year and although it was only the end of March we were already feeling burnt out. So we decided to look for somewhere to unwind and hide away from the world for a few days. Somewhere we could wear wellies and pyjamas and not be judged. Somewhere we could collect fresh eggs from the resident chickens to cook up for a leisurely breakfast. With a side helping of Coco Pops if we wanted.
We found that place at Pitt Farm Cottage near Exmoor!
Pitt Farm Cottage in Exmoor
As we trundled down the lane, meeting owner Robert and his truck full of dogs on the way in, we knew we’d chosen our Exmoor cottage holiday well. No-one would ever find us here, and the absence of a mobile signal or 4G was a blessing (although there is internet in the cottage should you need it). Robert and Lisa escaped the London life 15 years ago and launched themselves into a whole new way of living, with a farm, a cottage, and countless animals to keep them on their toes (including a litter of puppies which were just 3 days old when we arrived, so cute!). Their enthusiasm for country life is infectious, and by the end of our stay we were changing our retirement plans from buying a riad in Marrakech, to running a small-holding in the English countryside. With pigs. Gotta have pigs!
Inside, the cottage is a masterpiece. Despite being quite cosy in size, the open plan living and mezzanine bedroom made it feel plenty big enough for two, and it’s the sort of place that you have to see with your own eyes to really understand the genius behind the layout. Our pictures certainly don’t do it justice!
I loved that the original character of the old Exmoor cottage had been retained, with exposed stone walls and intriguing little nooks and crannies, whilst modern furnishings and flourishes made it both comfy and contemporary. The perfect combination.
Hubbie was more interested in the homemade triple chocolate cookies left thoughtfully for us in the beautiful galley kitchen, beside the box of freshly picked farm eggs. Yum.
Upstairs we loved the Velux windows overlooking the garden that allowed the morning sunlight to gently caress us awake, and the sheepskin rugs that covered the floorboards.
Exmoor cottage holidays are all about slowing down, taking stock, and just enjoying the little moments that usually go unnoticed. Like the church bells ringing merrily on Sunday mornings, the lambs gambolling about the fields without a care in the world, and the geese in the garden quarrelling about nothing in particular. Throw routine out of the window, and just see what you feel like doing when you get up each morning. It worked for us!
So what did we get up to on our Exmoor cottage holiday? We spent 3 nights staying at Pitt Farm Cottage at the end of March, and although several attractions in Exmoor (and the rest of the UK) don’t open until Easter (which is so annoying for those of us who love off-season travel), there was still plenty to see and do. Here’s what we did…
Our Favourite Things to do in Exmoor
See some Exmoor Ponies
One thing I desperately wanted to do in Exmoor was see some of the famous ponies. For once I’d kept my expectations in check and was fully prepared for just a few distant shots, no doubt obscured by mist. Yet we’d been in the car less than 10 minutes when we came across our first group. Up close, right next to the road! There were dozens of them, cantering along and actually crossing the road right in front of us. Of course we stopped for a better look.
Exmoor ponies are wild so you shouldn’t get too close. I hovered at a respectable distance, whilst Hubbie positioned himself in a thicket of gorse bushes and waited for them to come to him. Which they did. Can’t say the boy isn’t dedicated.
Walks and cake at Watersmeet
One of the best things to do in Exmoor is just drive and see what you come across, which is precisely how we discovered Watersmeet, a dramatic gorge with riverside walks and a tea garden, owned by the National Trust. There’s plenty of (payable) roadside parking along the road that runs along the top of the valley, and then an easy trail that leads down to the river, across a bridge and to the tea room.
If you just want to pop down for a slab of cake and a cuppa to enjoy in stunning countryside surroundings, it only takes about 10 minutes to walk there from the road. But it would be a shame not to explore further, and there are several footpaths leading up and down the gorge, the most popular being the one to Lynmouth down on the coast.
Lynton and Lynmouth coastal villages
There are lots of reasons to visit Lynmouth. Firstly, the coast here is dramatic, the buildings quaint and colourful, and the boats bobbing in the harbour will bring back fond memories of childhood holidays.
Secondly, if like me you learnt all about the famous 1952 flooding of Lynmouth when you were at school, it was great to finally see it first hand after all these years. The high river flood defences are the central feature of the village today, which we thought were rather attractive.
And finally, the Esplanade Fish Bar here is amazing (it has been voted north Devon’s favourite fish and chip shop, and comes highly recommended by Robert from Pitt Farm Cottage!). We spent our first afternoon sitting on the harbour wall with the sun on our backs, listening to some buskers and scoffing scrummy battered cod and chips. Just what a proper English holiday is all about.
But it’s not all about Lynmouth. Just up the hill overlooking the sea is the small town of Lynton, which is full of narrow cobbled alleyways, pretty buildings and a church with stunning views (and picnic tables!). It’s really worth stopping here for a stroll around the shops (and there are plenty of places to eat here too), and to admire the coastal panoramas. The road up here is quite steep and winding, so if you don’t fancy tackling it (really, it’s not that bad!), take the cliff railway from Lynmouth up to Lynton, one of the most unusual things to do in Exmoor.
We drove because we were heading on to explore the Valley of the Rocks.
Valley of the Rocks Scramble
This superb stretch of coastal scrambles and remarkable panoramas is just a stones throw away from Lynton. In fact you could walk there from the town if you wanted to. There’s a rocky path traversing the cliffs along the Valley of the Rocks, and most people park at the top (there are several pay and display parking areas here) and walk down the trail, scrambling over the mini summits and pinnacles before descending to the road and returning up the bottom of the valley to the car. It is pretty steep in places, so if you want to give it a go, make sure you take some suitable footwear.
This was personally my favourite part of our Exmoor cottage holiday. The landscape here reminded me of summers spent walking along the coastal paths in Cornwall, with the bright yellow gorse blazing in the sun, and the sea shimmering blue far below.
Selworthy Village thatched cottages
We weren’t really sure what Selworthy Village was all about, but having seen some chocolate box pictures of cottages on the internet we popped by to check it out. Selworthy is a National Trust Village, essentially a ‘timeless rural landscape of thatched cottages’ on the 12,000 acre Holnicote Estate, along with a medieval church, woodland walks, and the adorable Periwinkle Tea Rooms which is inside one of the cottages. We stopped here for toasties and carrot cake (delicious!), and to admire the cottages, all very English and quaint.
There’s no entrance fee to the village, but parking is quite limited so avoid peak times during the height of summer.
On a clear day you can see all the way to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor. Unless you’re visiting the tea rooms or going for a walk, it probably isn’t really worth stopping as there’s not much else to do, but if you time your visit for around lunch time, you won’t be disappointed. Just aim for an early or late lunch as it’s quite small inside, and very popular.
Top Tip: There’s honesty box parking outside the church at the top of the village. Use this and walk back down the road.
Go back in time at Dunster Castle
We love castles. They tell us so much about our history and heritage, and it’s so much fun poking around inside, seeing how the other half lived. Once an ancient fortress, and more recently a family home, Dunster Castle perches regally on top of a steep hill called the ‘Tor’, where there have been fortifications since Anglo-Saxon times. Besieged during the Civil War and partially destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1650, the medieval gatehouse and ruined tower stand testament to centuries of turmoil and change.
The castle was turned into a lavish country house during the 19th Century before being given to the National Trust in 1976, and it’s fascinating to explore the rooms, which are just how they were when the family lived here.
Yet for us, it was the subtropical gardens that were the real draw. There are several trails meandering around the grounds, taking in four different micro-climates including woodlands, lawns and water gardens. From the tulip borders and orangery on the castle terrace, with its spectacular views out across the Bristol Channel and Exmoor from Dunster Castle, to the wild river garden with its giant rhubarb and artistic bridges, you really could spend a whole day exploring here.
Top Tip: It isn’t cheap (£13.60 for an adult, which gives entry to the castle and gardens, plus £5 for parking), so plan on spending at least half a day here to make the most of your ticket. If you can find roadside parking in Dunster village it’s just a short walk to the castle.
There are several more things to do in Exmoor, but these nicely filled our three days there whilst still giving us plenty of time to enjoy back at Pitt Farm Cottage. A long weekend of leisurely mornings, countryside strolls, an incredible variety of local attractions, and cosy evenings in by the fire were the perfect ingredients for a really well-balanced Exmoor cottage holiday. We came away relaxed, whilst still feeling that we’d seen and done a lot.
Top tips for visiting Pitt Farm Cottage
- Take your wellies and hiking boots, it’s all about outdoor living here.
- You’re welcome to take the dogs for a walk, just have a word with owner Robert.
- Whilst there’s no mobile or 4G signal in Skilgate, there is wi-fi inside the property.
- There’s one double bed so whilst it’s unsuitable for families, it’s perfect for a romantic couple’s holiday.
- There are maps as well as lots of information on the local area, including places to eat out if you don’t feel like cooking.
Our 3 night stay at Pitt Farm Cottage was kindly provided by Classic Cottages on a complimentary basis in return for this review. As always, words and opinions remain our own, and we never accept anything that we wouldn’t have been happy to pay for ourselves.