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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.


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