Walk Distance: 8.3 km long route
( or3.9km short route, 5.86km midlength route)
Walk Duration: 3hr long route
(or 1hr 20 short route, 2hr 10 midlength route)
Suitable for: Older children (short & midlength routes suitable for baby carriers & small children; baby carriers possible on long route with care)
Walk features: Great views, County top – highest point in Somerset, Marilyn, moorland walking, hill walking.
Dunkery Beacon is the top of Dunkery Hill, Exmoor. At 519m it is a Marilyn and the highest point in the county of Somerset, as well as in the whole of Southern England, outside of Dartmoor. Dunkery Beacon on a clear day offers fantastic views across to the Bristol Channel and Wales, Exmoor and even to Dartmoor. Dunkery Beacon is quite literally one of those places you feel on top of the world and with its spectacular summer covering of purple heather and plenty of Exmoor ponies to be found along the route, this is a fantastic place to walk with older children or babies in carriers. Please note that there are no facilities at the car park at Dunkery Gate so please bring your own refreshments with you and unless you enjoy a loo with a view, would advise taking advantage of the shelter offered by the bushes and trees on the lower part of the walk before heading up to the windy and exposed summit of Dunkery Beacon!
Despite its height and credentials, Dunkery Beacon is surprisingly accessible with the shortest route to the summit only 1.2km from the car park at Dunkery Gate, making this the perfect hill for mountain lovers to attempt with their little ones in tow. Still, this is still a sizeable hill and as with any national park area, particularly moorland, please take care when walking with children – carry the right kit, only set out after checking the forecast and if the conditions are good and be prepared for them to change at any time. On a sunny day Dunkery Beacon is inviting but when the mists swirl in the moorland can become foreboding and dangerous if treated lightly.
The route described here starts from the car park at Dunkery Gate to the south of Dunkery Beacon. The long route is spectacular but has some challenging parts in its final section including a very steep descent and a challeging climb back up to the car park. As such I would only recommend the longer route to those walking with older children. If you still do want to walk the long route with a baby in a carrier please do take great care on the downhill sections, particularly after rain and I would advise walking with poles.
For those looking for shorter routes up to Dunkery Beacon and back or who are walking with younger children or babies in carriers, I have described a short and medium length route here, both of which involve manageable ascents/descents and take in their fair share of good views, including from Dunkery Beacon cairn itself! In theory, it is possible to push a good all-terrain buggy along the rough track ascent route to the beacon but in practical terms the ground is so bumpy that baby would get quite shaken travelling for long on this path and it is not advised.
Start the walk at Dunkery Gate, where there is a small car park. Cross over the cattle grid and take the path immediately to your left, just before the National Trust Dunkery marker. Follow this rough track uphill crossing the side of the hill, with Dunkery Beacon summit above you to the right.
At the brow of the hill, just after the path begins to flatten out and near where you will see a gate in the hedge-line to your left, you will see a path leading diagonally right behind you towards the beacon. Take this path. It is quite hard to spot if you are not looking for it as the main path carries on straight ahead. This path leads straight on steadily uphill towards the beacon, with a manageable ascent to the summit.
On reaching the top of Dunkery Beacon ‘s 519m summit, enjoy a well-earned break at the cairn to enjoy the far-reaching views across Exmoor, Bristol Channel and even as far as Wales and Dartmoor. This is also a favourite grazing ground for the herds of the wild rare breed Exmoor ponies who have inhabited the moors since ancient times, so get the children to keep a look out for their hooved friends.
For those walking the short route, from Dunkery Beacon and with your back to the route you ascended by, turn right to the south and follow the path that descends directly back down to the car park where you started (the blue markers show the route on the map below).
For those continuing on the medium or longer length routes, with your back to the path you ascended by, continue on the path straight ahead past Dunkery Beacon cairn, walking past the compass points of interest marker and keeping it on your right hand side. Follow this path through the heather and wild edible bilberries (known in Somerset as Whortleberries) to the road. Keep a look out for birds across this stretch flitting in and out of the heather and remember to keep children and dogs on the path to avoid disturbing nesting birds. Those on the medium length route should now turn right and follow the edge of the quiet road back downhill to the start of the walk at the car park at Dunkery Gate (the green markers show this route on map below).
For the full length route and those with older children only, cross over the road and continue a short way on the path through the Exmoor heather. After 0.34km you will see a small waymarker made of a pile of stones on the ground to your right hand side. The main path will continue ahead of you and to your front-left you will see another path weaving its way up to the summit of the small hill to your left. Turn right on to the small path marked by the small cairn, walking south and back towards the direction of the car parks.
Follow this path across the moorland for just over one kilometer, enjoying the amazing views across the countryside as the lush green Exmoor valleys come into sight as you slowly descend toward them and the treeline ahead of you. After 1.25km you will meet a vehicle track crossing across your path. Turn left onto the vehicle track towards the wall and gates ahead and then at the wall/hedgeline turn right and follow it. Do not cross the stile on your left hand side but continue following along the hedgeline across velvety grass until you reach a large beech tree at the end of hedge and the beautiful views open up downhill to your left. At this point you will need to turn left and go straight down the steep descent towards the valley below. Watch your footing as the path can be slippery in places, particularly after rain. As you descend you will hear the tinkling sound of the River Avil flowing further down the valley and will leave behind the open Exmoor moorland and valley views in exchange for woodlands and rhododendron bushes.
The path meets a vehicle track at the bottom of the hill, which you should follow to the right. This takes you down to a small ford where older children will enjoy the challenge of leaping across the rocks to reach the otherside dry-footed! The water is very shallow and it is possible for the sure footed to cross without getting any sort of dunking if you balance with care!
Once over the ford, follow the path straight on and up the side of the hill, following the waymarker sign for Dunkery Gate. This is the start of a fairly steep uphill stretch as you start the ascent back towards the car park. Further uphill you emerge into fields and grazing land with fine views back behind you across the valley, Exmoor and woodland to enjoy during rest stops. Continue along the grassy track uphill until gradually the path begins to even out. At this point you will notice fencing along your right hand side and the path will turn again uphill to your right, through a gate. Walk uphill for a few hundred meters and then turn left again following the path along the final stretch back to the car park. Do watch out here and keep dogs on a lead as farmers use this land for grazing sheep and cattle, with the cows and their young particularly to be given a respectful distance in the springtime. Pass through the gate on the far side of the field and rejoin the start of the walk at the car park at Dunkery Gate.
Map of Route:
View Dunkery Gate Car Park in a larger map
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