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The Joys and Health Benefits of Walking

The Joys and Health Benefits of Walking
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Born to Walk

We’re not blind to the joys and health benefits of exercise, but we fall into a trap when we assume that the faster we go, the better. In fact, slow and steady wins the race to a healthy, happy life. Walking is low impact, accessible, and completely free - which could well be why it isn't fashionable. 

Many people perceive walking as functional, and barely that. Too often we choose not to go on foot when we have access to other transport, only getting our steps in when we have to, or when walking a dog. While walking with our canine friends is one of life's great joys, we need the walk as much as them. Walking is intrinsically important for good health and wellbeing.

Thomas Friedman, director of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has dubbed walking the ‘closest thing we have to a wonder drug’. Why is this? Walking – especially in nature – engages nearly all major muscle groups, aids physiological systems including the immune system, floods the brain with sensory stimuli and endorphins, and answers a primal need to roam.

Built for Endurance

Travelling long distances on foot is hardwired into us. Humans are unique in the animal kingdom because our two-legged stance keeps our lungs upright, allowing us to breathe multiple times and in different sequences with every step we take. In comparison, a cheetah’s lungs can only inhale once per stride. This allows us to regulate our temperature and keep moving for longer— outperforming big cats at long distance and even chasing animals like deer and antelope to death. Surprising as it may seem, humans are the best endurance runners on land.

The Path to Good Health

This isn’t just in our early youth. Research of New York City marathon runners found that our speed peaks at 27 years old, but only declines below our speed as a 19 year old when we are well into our sixties.

Few of us reach even half of our potential fitness level, but the old adage ‘use it or lose it’ couldn’t be more true. Thirty minutes of brisk walking is enough to get the ball rolling. Lowered blood pressure, reduced risk of Alzheimers, strokes and some cancers, boosted mood and lowered sugar cravings are just some of the benefits.

Walk to Stay on Your Feet

Two decades ago an arthritis diagnosis was seen as a red card. It ought to be a call to action. As the Arthritis Organisation explain, joint bones are lubricated by synovial fluid, which is circulated and supplied with nutrients and oxygen when exercise moves the joint and raises the heart rate. Conversely, inactivity causes cartilage to shrink and stiffen, exacerbating joint pain. Walking five to six miles a week can prevent arthritis from forming in the first place, and lesson pain where it has.
Weight bearing exercise – including walking – is the best exercise type for maintaining bone mass. Moreover, poor mobility and loss of balance cause damaging falls in the elderly. Our mobility and balance begin to decline decades before, however, in our midlife. Go walking to protect your future self.

The Joy of Exmoor

Beyond its physiological benefits, walking offers so much more. Striding out with the wind in your ears is a sensory experience as powerful as sampling a fine wine or scrumptious meal. It stimulates our senses in ways the comfortable, sedentary indoors is designed not to. The result? We feel invigorated and alive.

We are so lucky to be located within the beautiful Exmoor National Park, a magical landscape of moorland, stark peaks and wooded river valleys all bordered by a dramatic rocky coastline.
Stretching for 267 sq miles across west Somerset and north Devon, Exmoor is a walker’s paradise with trails snaking through breathtaking countryside. There is no better way to admire this unique corner of England than on foot and for those with dogs – we are always pleased to welcome our guests’ dogs at the Luttrell Arms – it provides a great day out for both human and animal. So if you are coming to stay at our dog friendly hotel with your favourite furry friend, be sure to pack your walking boots.
Being situated in the stunning historic village of Dunster, famous for the castle which has sat atop its wooded hill since Norman times, means we are within a stone’s throw of some of the loveliest walking routes in Exmoor. 
We’ve listed a few of our favourites, starting with those closest to our hotel.

Dunster circular walk

A 10 minute walk from Luttrell Arms
Take a short stroll from the Luttrell Arms to Gallox Bridge, a delightful pack-horse bridge over the River Avill. After crossing the bridge you are confronted by a large trail map showing numerous walking options around Dunster and the Dunster Crown Estate. You could opt to bear left into the open meadows of the Dunster Deer Park or head on one of the paths through the woods to emerge from the trees at the top of Gallax Hill. The circular routes pass two hilltop Roman settlements as well as offering amazing views inland and out to sea. Upon your return you can then reward yourself with a refreshing pint at our welcoming bar or try out one of the other great pubs and cafes scattered throughout the village.

Porlock Bay near Porlock

A 15 minute drive from the Luttrell Arms
The stretch of coastline around Porlock Weir is a unique combination of jagged cliffs, shingle beach, and saltmarsh teeming with wildlife. The large shingle ridge protects the marshes behind from the violence of the waves but it was breached in 1996, transforming the freshwater marshes to saltwater. Set off from Porlock Weir eastwards along the beach and up onto the gnarled cliffs at Hurlstone Point which offer views north across the Bristol Channel. A nine-mile loop takes you inland at Bossington Hill to the villages of Lynch then Allerford before turning back towards the coast and returning to Porlock. There you can rest your feet with a well-earned drink at the Bottom Ship Inn.

The Horner Valley

A 15 minute drive from the Luttrell Arms
The tranquility of the ancient woodland, disturbed only by the babbling of Horner Water, makes this valley a very special walking spot. The 500-year-old oak woods lie within the National Trust’s expertly preserved Holnicote Estate and follow Horner Water valley past Crowter Hill. Starting in West Luccombe or Horner, there are circular walking routes which pass through the 800-acre Horner Wood, a designated SSSI. The woods are particularly worth visiting in spring when early wildflowers carpet the ground but the whole estate is teeming with wildlife. Look out for red deer, rare heath fritillary butterflies and birds such as pied flycatcher, wood warbler and woodpecker. Stop off at the Horner Tea Gardens upon your return for a westcountry cream tea.

Dunkery Beacon near Wheddon Cross

A 15 minute drive from the Luttrell Arms
The highest point on Exmoor standing at 519 metres above sea level, Dunkery Hill is an exposed moorland peak offering awe-inspiring panoramic views north across the Bristol Channel and south into Devon. For a classic moorland walk, park up at Dunkery Gate near Wheddon Cross and you can reach the beacon in a direct mile and a half walk. There are countless winding routes across the moors in almost all directions, all offering amazing scenery and wildlife spotting opportunities, so you can make your route as long and challenging or short and sweet as you wish.

Tarr Steps, near Dulverton

A half hour drive from the Luttrell Arms
One of Exmoor’s best hidden treasures, Tarr Steps is an ancient clapper bridge crossing the River Barle at the centre of an idyllic woodland nature reserve with many atmospheric walking trails. The huge rock slabs form the longest and oldest known clapper bridge in Britain, transporting visitors back several centuries. A great seven mile circular walk takes you from Tarr Steps along the winding water’s edge fringed by trees to photogenic Withypool. There you can sit down over a drink or bite to eat at the Royal Oak Inn or Withypool Tea Room before climbing up onto the moorland for incredible views over the National Park enroute to the bridge.

County Gate, Countisbury

A half hour drive from the Luttrell Arms
To admire the dramatic Exmoor coast, few walks can beat the ramble up to County Gate which straddles the Somerset Devon border between Porlock and Lynton. Follow the South West Coastal Path ascending soaring moorland coastline up to County Gate, from where you can gaze across the Bristol Channel to the Welsh mountains beyond or look south to see Exmoor’s rolling hills stretching inland. You could choose to dip down towards the coast to explore steeper woodland paths or stay high on the moors for a windswept walk of big skies and sea views.

Valley of the Rocks, Lynton, Devon

A 40 minute drive from the Luttrell Arms
A slightly longer drive but well worth the journey, the Valley of Rocks is the most spectacular geological sight in Exmoor. The dry valley hemmed in by steep rock cliffs which drop off abruptly into the sea at their northern end has a ‘Lost World’ quality if you visit on a quiet day. The dramatic landscape was formed thousands of years ago by the River Lyn which then changed its course, leaving the valley high and dry. Its unusual rock formations have since inspired writers including Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. There are great circular walks starting at car parks at either end of the valley and you can easily detour into Lynton if you feel peckish. Keep an eye out for the feral goats which call the Valley of Rocks home and leap deftly between its crags.

Put your feet up

There are enough wonderful walking routes crisscrossing Exmoor National Park’s beautiful landscape to keep even the keenest walker busy for weeks on end, this is just a taster. 

When it's time to rest and refuel, we think there's no better place than our charming country house in the heart of Dunster. Warm up by the fire with a hot drink if it's chilly, or pick a spot in our garden overlooking Dunster Castle for a refreshing tipple before sampling our award-winning food.

For a real treat why not book in to The Mews Beauty Rooms  for a luxurious massage to soothe your muscles after a day exploring?

Then sleep soundly in one of our beautiful bedrooms - many with original features and access to our gardens or private terraces - perfect if you're bringing your four-legged friend.


What our guests say...

Our favourite hotel

We had such a lovely time at this hotel. 2nd visit and we shall definitely return. Everything is just so. Hotel rooms, service, staff is just lovely and food delicious. We couldn't fault it at all. The main bar area just makes you feel like you want to spend the rest of your day sitting by the fireplace sipping on your drink and reading the paper. Our favourite hotel and we would highly recommend ...

The hotel is a gem

My wife and I booked in for a birthday trip in November. Dunster is a charming small town / village destination with a great castle. We stayed for two nights with dinner on one night and afternoon tea on the second. The hotel is a gem, with lovely old bars and lounges plus a main bar very popular with the locals-four real ales and a selection of ciders and lagers. Staff were excellent. Dinner was ...
Peter T

The staff really go the extra mile

We’ve been staying here on and off for over 18 years and it just keeps getting better. Fantastic location for Exmoor, the west Somerset coast and Dunster. The staff really go the extra mile and are superb, the rooms are original and comfortable and the food is good. Lots of different public rooms to explore and relax in, two bars both with open log fires plus lots of character plus lovely gardens...
James F

Helpful Staff

Great hotel and location. The food was very good particularly the breakfast. The staff were very helpful especially when we had to amend the booking. Dunster castle was within walking distance and along with the mill is worth a visit....

Amazing staff

My wife and I stayed two nights recently here with our young son to attend a wedding in the village...the hotel was very busy throughout the weekend due to the annual music festival, and yet all the hotel staff went out of their way to make us feel so welcome....

Happy Hotel

I rarely feel compelled to give reviews, but this hotel is worth one. It occupies a charming old building of great character with a good garden. In keeping with its age, it has stairs but no lift. The bedrooms are clean, bright and with good modern accommodation. The dining room is very attractive, and the restaurant menu is excellent. The staff are competent, friendly and helpful. It is a happy hotel...
Mr Fletcher

Terrific hotel, great gardens

Loved this hotel. Lots of nooks and crannies. Nice welcoming bar, would be very nice in the winter if imagine, because there is a grand, big fire place. Garden is beautiful, great to relax in on a summer day. Highly recommend although a Little expensive, but worth it for a treat....

Quirky in the right sense

Lovely clean room and bathroom. Super public rooms and spaces with fires. Quirky in the right sense and not as a euphemism for inconvenient. Great location for walking and touring. Wonderful food both breakfasts and evening meals. We felt thoroughly pampered...
Sarah P

Pulled out all of the stops

My Partner and I had a really great stay with the dog. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff. They really pulled out all of the stops to ensure a carefree stay with the dog. We found the whole set up and inclusive treatment for dog owners to extremely well done and a real home from home with all the old world charm of a historic building in a historic and idyllic country setting. We will definitely...
Andrew W

A perfect lunch

We stayed here earlier in the year and returned just for lunch today.We weren’t disappointed. My wife had the roast beef and I chose the seafood chowder. Though quite different both of these meals were delicious.A beautiful location, friendly service and great food! What more could you ask for?...
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