Category Archives: Exmoor Society News


The Exmoor Society is pleased to announce the launch of its new series Exmoor Studies. The idea for the publications sprang from the Society’s annual Exmoor Review, as the editors sometimes have to cut longer articles. Rather than turn away such information, it was decided instead to publish them as more in-depth studies of around 15-20,000 words.

The first two booklets are out now. No. 1, Exmoor Chroniclers, explores the writings, paintings and photographs of eight people who shared their knowledge of Exmoor in these different ways. They include the historian Hilary Binding, journalist Peter Hesp and writer and editor Victor Bonham-Carter. The essays were written by Caroline Tonson-Rye, Steven Pugsley, Mike Sampson, Hugh Thomas and Martin Hesp. Exmoor Chroniclers draws on archive material in the Exmoor Society’s resource centre to give a fresh perspective on these key Exmoor figures.

No. 2, The Exmoor Pony: Contested Histories, examines the debates around just how ancient the ponies are. Some say they are Ice Age survivors and a repository of ancient, wild-type DNA, whilst others argue that they are a modern breed, albeit a very special one. Drawing on her academic research into the history of animal breeding, and on her personal knowledge of horses and ponies, the Society’s archivist Dr Helen Blackman aimed to put some of the highly specific debates about the Exmoor ponies into a wider context of animal breeding and the history of Exmoor.

There are four more Studies in the pipeline. The next publication is based on a manuscript in the Society’s archives and is used by permission of Clara Greed, widow of the manuscript’s author John Greed. The Minehead Road: Between Exmoor and the Quantocks concerns the history of turnpike roads into Minehead, historically one of the entry points to Exmoor.

Hope Bourne: Reflections in Words will follow in the summer of 2018, in time for the 100th anniversary of Hope’s birth. The volume will explore Bourne’s published and unpublished writing. Known for her work on Exmoor, the author and illustrator nonetheless covered much wider themes, tackling subjects as divergent as poll tax, religion and the history of the horse. The series will continue with Exmoor’s Postal Routes and Historic and Veteran Trees of Exmoor.

The first two volumes are available now at the Society’s headquarters on Dulverton High Street, or online at, priced at £6 each. The Exmoor Society is celebrating the launch of the series on Wednesday 15 November, 12 noon until 3pm at 34 High Street, Dulverton.



The aim of Exmoor National Park Authority’s Historic Signpost Project is to record, refurbish, celebrate and explore the history of Exmoor National Park’s traditional signposts. This is a two-year project funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) and Somerset County Council.

Much of the motivation for this came from local communities concerned about the state of some signposts in their areas and a desire to preserve and celebrate the distinctive character of the signs that are a much-valued part of the Exmoor landscape. As such, they are an integral part of Exmoor’s history and heritage. During the 1960s, councils were advised to remove existing signposts and replace them with standardised signs. However, Somerset did not do this, particularly on Exmoor, and so the distinctive cast-iron, black-and-white signs remain.

The ENPA is working with the Exmoor Society and volunteers to trace the history of the signposts. Dr Helen Blackman, the Exmoor Society’s archivist, said: “The starting point is the history of individual posts. The kind of questions we would love answers to are: how long have they been there?; do they and the crossroads that they are positioned at have specific names?; is there anything in particular that has happened to them, such as removal during the Second World War and later replacement?”

From this, volunteer researchers are aiming to find out about the importance of routes and locations and so help piece together a wider history of travel around the moor. Dr Blackman continued: “Have you ever wondered why some towns and villages are clearly signposted, whilst other have so little to indicate their whereabouts? For example, to some visitors it may seem odd that many signposts point to Watchet, now a relatively small town. However, the signage reveals something of its previous significance as a port and a major centre for paper manufacture.”

The Exmoor National Park is seeking more volunteers to help uncover this fascinating history. No experience is necessary, as training will be given by Dr Blackman; all that is required is some spare time and enthusiasm for research and detective work.

Routes over Exmoor have also evolved, as roads were tarmacked in the 1930s and some tracks were preferred over others. The signposts and their history can help piece together why this might be. Were some routes considered more direct, or did they cover easier terrain? Did they pass somewhere previously significant, now largely forgotten?

Dr Blackman concluded: “Do you have old photos and slides of Exmoor that include views of the signposts? These could be close-ups, or just photos that happen to include the posts such as the one pictured* or have any stories to tell about why crossroads have particular names? We would love to hear from you if you have information that would help with the project, please email”

  • PHOTO: Molly Groves in 1963 standing next to the top of Oare Post, Hookway Hill which is buried in snow. Photo courtesy of Mrs Groves.


A young Exmoor entrepreneur, Nick Hosegood, an arborist from Luxborough, has been successful in winning the 2017 Pinnacle Award from The Exmoor Society. With the £3,000 award he plans to offer a portable milling service to Exmoor, his vision being to mill felled Exmoor-grown timber on site for use in structures, fencing or as building materials. The venture will allow him to extend his efforts in woodland management to improve and expand the woodland coverage on Exmoor.

“Nick went to school in Minehead and then to Cannington and Plymouth University where he read animal behaviour,” said Exmoor Society Trustee and Pinnacle Award head judge, Jackie Smith. “His greatest wish was to work and live here on Exmoor, recognising the need for a trade to do so and discovered a love of trees and wood. He trained as an arborist and set up his own company this year called Three Atop Woodland Services. Horrified by the waste of wood on Exmoor, of which he estimates as much as 80 per cent is wasted or burned, his plans for a mobile milling machine will allow him to turn felled timber into furniture, fencing and building materials on site for use by the landowner, with the milling remains only used for fuel. Alternatively, he will remove the wood for use locally elsewhere. All the judges felt that Nick definitely has the potential to succeed.”

When informed of his success, Nick said: “I am truly grateful for this opportunity to expand my woodland business with the purchasing of mobile chainsaw milling machinery. I aim to reduce the wastage of wood on Exmoor by processing timber to be used by Exmoor people. In the future I am looking to take on a local apprentice to assist me with milling activities and to train them to become an arborist and share the same ethos towards conservation.”

Chairman of The Exmoor Society, Rachel Thomas, said, “It is noticeable that Nick recognises the sustainable use of Exmoor’s woodlands and hopes to offer employment and training to another person living locally. This is precisely the purpose of the Pinnacle Award: to support young people to earn a living within Exmoor National Park without the need to seek employment outside the area. The award helps to demonstrate that special landscapes and livelihoods are very much linked together.”

More information on the woodland services Nick offers can be found on his website (link below).

PHOTO: Courtesy


As part of their new archive project, staff and volunteers at the Exmoor Society are investigating the old postal routes across Exmoor. Never the easiest place to navigate, Exmoor’s post was, up until 1970, routinely delivered on foot, by motorbike and from horseback, with walking routes of 15 miles and more.

The posties were Exmoor’s main method of communication in more ways than one – as well as the post, they took with them village news, and (unofficial) deliveries of newspapers, bread, tobacco, even medicines. For farms with no road access, the postie was sometimes the only visitor in days.

The Society is particularly interested in the old postal routes and ways of delivering mail between around 1930 and 1970. This was a time of great change, as the telephone superseded the need to communicate by mail or telegram. No longer was the post the main method of communication, as roads improved and the motor car became more common. As less post was delivered and it became quicker to get from farm to farm by car or van, walking rounds were limited to towns, and ponies and motorbikes were no longer needed.

It is claimed that the last route to be ridden on Exmoor was undertaken by John Blackmore around Withypool, including farms such as Ferny Ball, Landacre and Blackland. Interviewed for the Exmoor Oral History Archive in 2001, Blackmore spoke about Eisenhower’s visit to Withypool and how the great General took tea with his sister. Unable to serve in the Second World War because of his health, John continued to deliver the mail on Exmoor using his horse, Shamrock. The pair were photographed for The Picture Post in 1941, wading through the River Barle.

Exmoor Society archivist Dr Helen Blackman said, “The old postal routes and stories from the posties make an intriguing history. They tell us much about the moor and the difficulties of communicating in the days before tarmacked roads and telephones. The posties and the village shops were vital to remote villages and even more remote farms.” The Society, with the help of a grant from the Malcolm MacEwen Fund, was able to employ an Exeter University student during the summer to investigate the routes and to walk some of them. Re-walking them helped give a sense of what the posties were coping with and, since many of the routes were ridden, plans are afoot for Helen to ride one of the routes on an Exmoor pony.

Rachel Thomas, the Society’s chairman, said, “If you have any stories about the old postal routes we would love to hear from you. Dr Blackman and the Society’s volunteers are preparing a publication which includes details of the paths taken, so if you would like to get involved, please get in touch using the information given below.”

Rachel Thomas – 01271 375686 or Exmoor Society Offices – 01398 323335.


PHOTO: Withypool Post Office, by Tom Troake, 1970.



The Exmoor Society has just released details of its guided walks programme for 2017. The programme provides a wonderful opportunity to walk through the splendour of Exmoor’s beautiful landscapes and villages, starting from different locations across Exmoor and in the company of knowledgeable and welcoming guides. Joining a walk is a great opportunity to enhance fitness and well-being and enjoy the company of others. The Society is now the largest provider of guided walks on Exmoor and offers a very wide variety:

  • Discover prehistoric sites on ‘A Walk Through Two Iron Ages’, ‘From Withypool to Tarr Steps, a step back in time’ and ‘Dulverton Woodland Walk’
  • Enjoy stunning Exmoor landscapes on ‘The Hidden Landscape of Culbone Wood’, ‘Avill Valley Vistas’, ‘Two Exmoor Rivers and Villages’, ‘Horner Woods and Water and ‘To the Source of the River Tone’
  • Hear about figures from literature and the Arts and see the landscapes that inspired them on ‘In the Footsteps of Rachel Reckitt, Sculptor, Engraver & Welder’, ‘To Culbone, in Coleridge’s Footsteps’ and ‘Lorna Doone – A Shorter walk’
  • Explore the history of Exmoor settlements on ‘Discovering Dunster’s Hidden History’ and ‘Lynton and Valley of Rocks – An Historic Tour’
  • Learn about Exmoor wildflowers, insects and lichens on ‘Wildlife of the Doone Valley and Moorland’, ‘Discovering the Flowers of the Barle Valley’ and ‘Wildflowers of Watersmeet Woodlands’
  • Spot wildlife (hopefully, but no guarantee!) on ‘Ilkerton Ridge and the first Cuckoo’, ‘Ponies on Winsford Hill’ and ‘Autumn Sights and Sounds around Dunkery’

Running from April to October, the programme offers four to six guided walks each month starting on 5 April with ‘Two Exmoor Rivers & Two Villages’ around Withypool and Exford, then on 18 April, repeated by popular demand, is ‘Historic Lynton and Valley of Rocks’. ‘Discover Dunster’s Hidden History’ on 23 April and explore its historic buildings and secret places. With the hope of hearing the first cuckoo, join a new guided walk ‘Ilkerton Ridge and the Cuckoo’ set in spectacular moorland landscape on 24 April.

There is no charge for the walks but a small donation is welcomed from non-members. Some walks end with an optional pub lunch or afternoon tea – a social opportunity for the walkers and support for local businesses, not to mention welcome post-walk refreshments!

For further details visit For any queries, contact or 01398 323335.


The Exmoor Society’s 2016 guided walks programme proved to be another great success, building on and surpassing the figures from 2015. Through the support, commitment and energy of the Society’s volunteer walk leaders, the 2016 programme comprised 26 walks.

Running from February to the end of October 2016, the walks covered a wide variety of landscapes and subjects across Exmoor, starting with the springtime theme ‘Snowdrop Valley in Full Bloom’ and ending with the autumn scenery of ‘Deer on Dunkery’. To give an indication of the breadth of the programme, the subjects have included:

  • Prehistoric sites visited on the walks ‘From Withypool to Tarr Steps, a step back in time’ and ‘Coast and Common from Barna Barrow’
  • Exmoor landscapes – rivers, moorland, farmland, coast and woods – featured in the walks ‘Two Exmoor Rivers and Villages’, ‘Anstey Commons and Hawkridge’, ‘Selworthy and North Hill’, ‘The Woods of Simonsbath’, ‘Avill Valley Vistas’ and ‘Autumnal Woods around Dulverton’
  • Literature and the Arts have been the focus in ‘To Culbone, in Coleridge’s Footsteps’, ‘Doone Country’, ‘In the Footsteps of Rachel Reckitt, Sculptor, Engraver & Welder’ and ‘Hope Bourne and her Beloved Exmoor’
  •  The history of Exmoor settlements have been explored in ‘Discovering Dunster’s Hidden History’ and ‘Lynton and Valley of Rocks – An Historic Tour’.

The 26 walks in 2016 were joined by over 370 walkers (353 in 2015) and £515 was raised in donations. These figures have steadily increased over the last eight years. The walks are supported by locals and visitors from the UK and abroad, by members and non-members, individuals and families. Some walks include an optional pub lunch or afternoon tea, offering a social opportunity for the group and support for local businesses. In addition to the programme being advertised through the Society’s website, it also appears in the Exmoor Visitor and on the ENPA website, in the national and local press and via Twitter. The Society is now the largest provider of guided walks throughout the year on Exmoor.

It is the walk leaders, however, with their enthusiasm, dedication and willingness to share their love and knowledge of Exmoor, and who plan, research and prepare the walks, who are at the core of the programme’s success.

The 2017 programme

This year the programme expands even further, with 33 walks. Some are new, including a walk around Ashley Combe (home of Countess of Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron), one along Ilkerton Ridge in search of the first cuckoo, ‘A Walk Through Two Iron Ages’ and another to the source of the River Tone. There are new themes, such as ‘Wildlife of the Doone Valley and Moorland’ and ‘Wildflowers of Watersmeet Woodlands’, and old favourites, such as historic Lynton, Dulverton’s autumnal woods, and the lives of artist Rachel Reckitt and, of course, Hope Bourne.

In addition, the Society is strengthening its links with other groups. There will be a guided walk ‘In Search of John Knight’s Lost Mansion’ led by ENPA’s Rob Wilson-North and linking with his Simonsbath Festival talk. Also, a member of the partnership project ‘Upstream Thinking’, improving the quality and delivery of the South West’s water, will lead a walk around Wimbleball Reservoir.

Find out more by visiting the Exmoor Society’s Online Diary

PHOTO: by David J. Rowlatt


Unspoilt moorland; dramatic coastline; Exmoor ponies; romantic Lorna Doone association; ancient woodland and archaeological treasures: Exmoor offers such a variety of scenery, attractions and experiences to meet most people’s interests. It’s not surprising that within the Exmoor Society’s archive is found a wealth of material: letters; slides; pamphlets; correspondence – all show why Exmoor is so special and together they contain valuable evidence of the ongoing changes in Exmoor’s landscape. The archive demonstrates the complex interrelationship between people and the environment within this long-established, traditional rural community.

Dr Helen Blackman, a professional outreach archivist was employed by the Society to undertake a project “Unlocking Exmoor’s Heritage” from 2014-16. Since then she has catalogued and conserved key documents and papers relating to people such as Victor Bonham-Carter and Malcolm MacEwen who influenced the National Park movement from the 1950s through to the 1980s. She has put on notable events such as the Exmoor Language Garden as well as giving many talks to local groups and writing pamphlets and education guides for teachers and students of different ages. Extensive use has been made of volunteers to undertake much of the cataloguing and so engage many people with different skills and experiences. Further information on the project and the archive can be found on the Society’s website.

Chairman Rachel Thomas said that as a result of all this activity the Society is thrilled to announce that it has started a new 2-year venture, delving further into the archive, by employing Dr Blackman to lead several new projects. These will include acting as a hub for local history and archive groups; launching Exmoor Studies, a series of shorter books inspired by the Exmoor Review the annual journal of the Society first published in 1959; a conference on Exmoor as an English outback and a book-length history of the National Park. Finally a new project just launched called Then & Now has attracted much interest.

Dr Blackman said “Of all the things I’ve done since becoming the Exmoor Society’s archivist, wading in the River Barle to try to find out exactly where a photograph had been taken some 40 years ago was probably one of the oddest. Archive training does not usually involve risk assessment in water – in fact archives and water do not mix well. But there I was, slipping around in a pair of borrowed wellies, peering intently at a bridge parapet to try to work out if I’d got the angle right (I hadn’t).”

“The principle is simple”, Dr Blackman explained – “go to the same spot an old photo was taken and retake it. In practice, it can be quite tricky. The photographs are usually labelled, but sometimes for example the label just says “A boggy place on Dry Hill” and this isn’t terribly easy to locate especially since the scene may have changed substantially over the decades. Thus you find something you think is the same spot but it looks different, and you can’t tell whether that difference is because you’re in fact standing somewhere else, or in the same place that has changed. The past, as they say, is another country.”

The Society has found that attempting to rediscover the same place hones your observation skills and enables a deeper understanding of landscape quality. There are over 1500 slides depicting locations across the moor so the task is enormous and the Society is seeking people to help retake them. The Then & Now photographs will enable the Exmoor Society to influence future landscape change by providing evidence of how the moor has evolved.

The Society’s Resource Centre is open to the public 10-4 Monday to Friday. To use the archives please make an appointment. And if you fancy doing some detective work and seeing how Exmoor has changed, please contact the archivist on or 01398 323335 for details of the project.

PHOTO: A linhay at Huish Barton, 1977.


Join a walk led by a member of the Exmoor Society to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of one of the nation’s favourite poems, ‘Kubla Khan’  by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The circumstances of the composition of this poem are perhaps as well-known as the poem itself.  In 1797 Coleridge was staying at a farmhouse near Culbone, when he fell into an opium-induced dream and, upon waking, started to write down the lines of poetry that had come to him in his sleep.  Some 54 lines in, however, he was “called out by a person on business from Porlock”, his train of thought was broken and the poem never finished.  It was Lord Byron who persuaded him of the poem’s excellence, leading to its eventual publication in 1816.

The Exmoor Society walk, ‘To Culbone in Coleridge’s footsteps’, takes place on Thursday 8 September and starts at Porlock Weir.  It will follow the most recent section of the Coleridge Way up as far as Silcombe Farm, then go down to Culbone Church and return along the South West Coast Path.  Jenny Gibson, Exmoor Society walk leader explains, “Though the route is hilly, the 6-mile/6-hour walk will proceed at a gentle pace giving walkers plenty of time to admire the breathtaking views that contributed to ‘Kubla Khan’s’ imagery, consider the poem’s possible hidden meanings and ponder which farm Coleridge was actually staying at when he wrote it.

“There will also be an opportunity to visit England’s smallest church at Culbone, and walk through the tunnels belonging to Ashley Combe House, once the home of Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, often described as the first computer programmer.”

Meet at 10.30am at Porlock Weir car park (TA24 8PD), bring a picnic and wear weatherproof everything.  Dogs on leads are welcome.  Free walk, but donations to The Exmoor Society are requested.  More information on

You can read more about the 200th anniversary of ‘Kubla Khan’ in the new issue of Exmoor Magazine (turn to page 12 for an article contributed by the Friends of Coleridge).

PHOTO: Culbone Church ©Jenny Gibson 2015


The winner of the annual Pinnacle Award for a young entrepreneur to start or develop a business has just been announced by The Exmoor Society.

Tom Lile has established a business for himself by working in traditional ironwork and wants to branch out into steel fabrication to widen his scope to meet the modern market. The award will help him invest in some of the equipment required in order to expand. He shares his workshop with his mentor Ben Horrobin but sees the potential to progress into adjacent premises on his own and is anticipating taking on an apprentice.  On hearing that he had been successful, Tom said: “I am grateful to The Exmoor Society for the opportunity to win the Pinnacle Award this year. The money will allow me to expand and diversify my service to the people of the Exmoor area and venture into new aspects of metalwork.”

Jackie Smith, trustee of The Exmoor Society, said: “The purpose of the award is to give someone a leg-up in their business venture. Already in business and with an entrepreneurial understanding, Tom has an eye to the future and had identified opportunity for further expansion. The £3,000 award will assist in buying machinery to enable him to branch out into alternative metals, broaden his skills, services and employment to others.”

The Exmoor Society set up the Pinnacle Youth Award, now in its fifth year, for young people aged between 16 and 25 year, who live, work or are studying in the Greater Exmoor Area. The money can be used for developing good ideas, new skills and start-up businesses to enable young people to continue to live and work sustainably. The previous winners have all progressed in developing businesses in the area. The Society hopes to attract other sponsors to help encourage a diverse range of business opportunities.

“There is a great deal of concern in the English uplands like Exmoor that young people have to leave because of a lack of jobs,” said Rachel Thomas, the Society’s Chairman. “We are concerned about local livelihoods and as a conservation body, want to show that protecting a beautiful landscape can go together with creating and sustaining employment. By providing seed-corn money, the Society hopes that young people will be able to stay in the area and help secure a lasting future for Exmoor’s countryside.”

Tom’s website is

 Photot: courtesy of Thomas Lile


The 2016 Pinnacle Award, organised by The Exmoor Society, is now open to young people aged up to 25 who live, work or study in the Greater Exmoor area.

It offers £3,000 to an individual or group who have an idea for a business venture in relation to agriculture, forestry, conservation, horticulture, craft, tourism, or any outdoor land-based activity. The Award was set up four years ago by the Exmoor Society for young entrepreneurs who wish to stay working on Exmoor, particularly within farming and land-based activity including food and drink or in tourism.

As a conservation body, the Society fully recognises the importance of providing opportunities for young people to remain on the moor when they enter the world of work. The Society wants to show that beautiful landscapes and livelihoods can go together by finding openings connected with the land or enjoyment of the outdoors, the very essence of keeping Exmoor alive as a National Park.

Previous applications have come from people with ideas as diverse as making cider and developing a herd of pedigree cattle. Two of the three winners so far have been young people setting up their own agricultural contracting business. Both inaugural winners, twins Adam and Oliver Hill from Timberscombe, and last year’s winner, Jack Croft from North Molton, have gone on from strength-to-strength having used their prize to purchase much needed equipment to get them started.

The winners in 2012 were Sally Taylor and Emma Cox who used their prize money as seed-core funding to start them on the long road to establishing a country clothing business. Last year’s winner, Matthew Sharpe, has set up a business in woodland management with the specific intention of using small-scale equipment. This is so that he can operate within environmentally sensitive areas without disturbing habitat and landscape.

The Society hopes to attract even more entries for the award this year which is now open for applications with the closing date being 30th June 2016. Forms are available on the Society’s website at or by contacting its Dulverton office on 01398 323335,

PHOTO: 2015 Pinnacle Award winner Matthew Sharpe.