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 This was a time of great change, as the telephone superseded the need to communicate by mail or telegram.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.
“I thought they couldn’t take away our buses… ? But actually they can, can’t they?”
These were the questions posed to me today by a bemused and upset 64-year-old Betty Kisby from Porlock, when I met her – and countless others – in Minehead’s Wellington Square. Here, a petition to ‘Save Our Buses’ was being signed by hundreds of people in the deflating October drizzle. After signing, rather than drifting off, they hung about chatting with one another, all trying to understand the situation.
The background sound from this largely senior gathering was more akin to the low drone at a huge Irish wake than an angry protest. I think that’s probably because people haven’t got their heads around this yet. Many will only have learnt about the cuts – not proposed but finalised, and reportedly without proper consultation – yesterday, thanks to Tony James’ extensive and timely rundown of the situation in the West Somerset Free Press, which also included a call to arms to get biros at the ready from 10am today.
If the overheard conversations were anything to go by, I think that every single person in the Square had probably read that article and they seemed pleased to see several journalists coming to find out more. I’ve rarely had a queue of people wanting to talk to me!
But they also wanted to know if I knew any answers. I was taken aback. I thought I was going to be the one asking questions, like ‘How would losing the bus affect your life?’ But as people milled around chatting, signing, trying to grasp the bombshell, the refrains were everywhere.
“They [the bus company] are actually going to do this aren’t they?”
“Is there NO chance of a reprieve?”
Yes, apparently they are.
And no, apparently there isn’t.
The Free Press reported yesterday that, “The buses were financed by the County Council until the First Bus subsidiary, Buses of Somerset, provided a commercial service. The company said it has now been forced to the conclusion that the West Somerset routes are no longer viable.”
Minehead’s Mayor, Councillor Jean Parbrook, gave generously of her time in talking to me, but also seemed weighed down by an apparent lack of hope. “If you think about it, it’s all been a horrible accident,” she said. “Gordon Brown gave people a bus pass which, ultimately, has made the buses unviable. People have said that they would be willing, or could manage, to pay a bit – or all – towards their fare. But it seems like this isn’t manageable.”
“Do you think there is any way this can be rescued,” I asked her, sounding like a stuck clock. She gave me a frown. My Granny would have called it a ‘square look’.
County Councillor Terry Venner seemed to agree. “I think there’s very little hope. But what I want to achieve here is simply to highlight the fact that there is a need for the buses and that this petition has support. If we can get 1,000 signatures today, that’s 10% of the resident population. The aim of the campaign is to raise enough support to persuade the County Council cabinet to seek alternative funding and put the services out to tender. It’s not a luxury we’re talking about. It’s a necessity.
“The government has spent millions of pounds getting the message out to people telling them to use public transport, to walk, take the bus, choose any means of transport but the car, yet at the same time they are cutting funding to County Councils so that they, in turn, can’t fund our buses. It’s a vicious circle. We are back to where we started where the car is now king. And if people can’t drive, if they are infirm or simply too old, they are stuck – well and truly snookered. We need to show the County Council what this means.”
Terry was kept incredibly busy as people arrived in ones and twos, in groups of all sizes, on foot, on mobility scooters, in wheelchairs – and in droves on the buses – on the No.10 from Porlock and on the 101 Town bus. These – together with the 14, which runs from Minehead to Bridgwater – will cease at the end of this month. “That just leaves the 28,” said Terry. “Three out of four of West Somerset’s buses – gone.”
Betty Kisby said she wasn’t sure what she’d do. “I use the No.10 two or three times a week. I don’t drive, I have no car. I have lived in Porlock all my life. I use the bus for shopping, the dentist, hospital appointments, meeting friends, all sorts. It’s my lifeline out of Porlock.”
“Will you have to move?”
“Well I’m contemplating it – if I can get my husband to agree to it.” Betty’s friend uttered an amused groan.
Betty was even more keen that I speak to the couple standing next to her. “They’ve come all the way from Birmingham today!”
“I’ve been coming down to holiday in Porlock since I was knee high to a grasshopper – actually just one year old,” said Mr Withers. “My wife Sarah and I are regular holidaymakers and we saw it on Facebook and thought we would come down this weekend and sign the petition.”
“When we come down on holiday we use the bus, the No.10, out to Minehead and back, which means we can go into town for a meal and a drink, use the facilities and go on the steam train from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard, which we love to do.”
“Will you still come down here on holiday if there is no bus?”
“We’ll still come to Porlock but we won’t be coming to Minehead nearly as much. It’s the businesses in Minehead and Porlock that are going to suffer as well as the bus users, because people will either not come into town from Porlock when they are on holiday and vice versa. So I reckon it will affect the tourism industry quite badly, although for the people who live here it’s even worse; it’s a disaster.”
Ray and Mary Mayfield from Minehead, and their friend Muriel Cracknell, were close by, listening. “I’m 90,” Ray told me. “Although I can still drive, lots of my friends can’t. When you can’t drive any more, like I won’t be able to soon, not having the 101 will mean we just can’t get out around town.”
“That is the 101 right now,” said Mary, and pointed over the road to the bus stop outside Toucan Wholefoods.
Waiting at the bus stop for a full busload of passengers to disembark was a frail gentleman, leaning against the glass of the shelter. He was a delight to listen to, but sadly my recording did not pick up his name. Wracking my brains for the lost name and failing, I posted on the Revive Minehead facebook page this afternoon, asking if anyone could help me. I got plenty of replies.
“The gentleman is Eric Freeman. Well into his nineties, he still does mileage records for the West Somerset Railway,” wrote Steve Martin.
“Yes it’s Eric,” added Emma Stacey. “Lovely man. Smiled as soon as I saw this photo.”
“He spends a lot of time sat in Morrisons lovely man,” wrote Teresa Williams.
I wonder how many of these people would know Eric were it not for the 101 bus. How would he do his volunteer work for the West Somerset Railway? Imagine the prospect of losing just this one part of his life.
The bus driver was very quiet as we paid. We told him where we were from. At first I thought he didn’t want us to talk to him. But in actual fact he was just really sad and upset.
“Is there a chance that you will lose your job with these cuts,” asked our photographer.
“It’s a real possibility, yes. I can see it from all angles. It’s not the bus company’s fault. I blame Tony Blair’s government. They made a promise which it’s financially impossible to keep.”
On the bus, Eric looked miserable too but he wanted to talk. I asked him if he lived alone…
“Oh yes, up on the hill.”
“Will you walk into town when the bus is gone?”
He threw his head back and laughed. “No, my dear, look at me. I can barely get from the bus stop onto the bus.”
“So, what will you do? Will you move.”
“No choice, my dear. Nothing else for it.”
Imagine that, at 90 odd. It’s absolutely rubbish. I’m 41. I’m not using the bus to get to Minehead yet. There won’t even BE a bus for my generation by the looks of it. But I’d like it if there was a bus for my parents.
I get upset about lots of things in the news, so much of it makes me feel powerless, but usually with local issues there seems to be more chance of influencing the outcome. In this instance I’m not so sure. I think this is a fight, however hopeless it might seem today, to get involved in.
Have you signed the petition? It’s everywhere – in all the local shops and businesses. Actually, thinking about it as I type, we need one online. Who’s up for starting it… ?
PHOTO AT TOP OF PAGE: Mary Mayfield and her friend Muriel Cracknell. Photo by Andrew Hobbs.
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People in North Devon are being encouraged to share their thoughts on options to improve the North Devon Link Road.
Devon County Council has launched an online consultation on the stretch of road, which runs between South Molton and Bideford. As part of this, North Devon Council is encouraging as many people as possible to have their say on two preferred options.
The first option is to upgrade junctions, which are currently pinch points. This is estimated to cost around £35 million. The second option, estimated at £150 million, would improve links and junctions, building on the junction improvements, and developing stretches of road with three lanes to enable safer overtaking in alternate directions.
North Devon Council Leader, Councillor Des Brailey, said: “The North Devon Link Road is vital to not only our residents, but also to our visitors, local businesses and economy. Both of the proposed options are aimed at improving traffic flow to reduce journey times. They’re also aimed at tackling congestion, as well helping to improve safety. Therefore, I want to encourage everyone to have their say in this consultation, as this is our chance to potentially shape the future of the road, which runs through the heart of North Devon.”
Work has started on essential work on cliffs above Quay Street in Minehead – and it’s very much business as usual for traders in the area.
West Somerset Council has commissioned experts to carry out remedial work on the steep hillside to protect properties below and the project is likely to take three weeks.
Work got under way on Monday 20 June at the harbour end of the road and is progressing well, with contractors taking full advantage of calm weather.
The highly visual nature of the work is drawing onlookers who are able to watch the operation from safe vantage points. Residents are welcoming the work that is being carried out above their properties.
Cllr Mandy Chilcott, Deputy Leader of the council and a Minehead ward member, said she was pleased the work was on schedule and that the weather was favourable.
“The reason we have to carry out this essential work now is to take full advantage of fair weather, rather than the autumn when it could have been affected by strong winds. It is vital that the remedial work is done as soon as possible.
“I know that residents are relieved this work is being done and we are also working with businesses in Quay Street, Quay West and the harbour and would encourage people to do all they can to support them. It’s vital this work is carried out and we are doing our utmost to minimise disruption.”
Quay Street is being closed to vehicles from 9.30am-4.30pm on weekdays but pedestrian access is being maintained – meaning people can easily reach affected businesses – Tea at the Quay tearooms, The Old Ship Aground pub, The Echo Beach café, the fishing tackle shop at the harbour and charter fishing boats.
The road closure is in place for safety reasons as a heavy-duty crane is operating on site, taking material – tree branches and rock – from the hillside.
Operational work includes emptying nets designed to catch debris, strengthening fixings for the nets and some tree removal and maintenance.
Quay West car park is closed for the duration of the work as it is the compound for machinery, equipment and welfare facilities for those working on site. The gents’ loos are closed but the ladies’ remain open for the public. Special parking arrangements are in place for affected Quay Street and Quay West residents and businesses.
A major litter pick along the North Devon Link Road has been completed, with more than seven and a half tonnes of rubbish collected.
The clean-up marked the start of the Love Where You Live campaign, which sees North Devon Council come together with the local McDonald’s franchise.
Over the last five weeks, council staff collected 1,441 bags of rubbish along a 34 mile stretch of road. Among the items they picked up were general builder’s rubble and fast food packaging, as well as more personal items, such as six bank cards and one passport. The crew was also on hand to stop and assist police and a recovery team, following a road accident at the Lake Roundabout last month.
Executive Member for Environment, Councillor Rodney Cann, says, “I’m always staggered by how much rubbish is carelessly thrown out of vehicle windows or dumped at the roadside. If we’re going to protect the area we live in, we need a change in culture and that means people’s attitudes to litter have to change. This clean-up is a big operation, which takes up a lot of time and resources and ultimately costs council taxpayers’ money. The crew’s done a great job and now that the road is looking cleaner, I hope people will help to keep it litter-free.”
Local McDonald’s franchisee, David Hunt, says, “Once again, we are proud to sponsor the Love Where You Live campaign. Unfortunately, some of the litter that is dropped along the link road is fast-food packaging. Therefore, by being involved in this campaign, we want to highlight to the wider public that it’s simply not acceptable to drop any litter. Quite simply, if we are all responsible together, we can help prevent litter from building up in the first place.”
It’s the third time McDonald’s has contributed towards the Link Road clean-up, with last year’s efforts resulting in more than 1,000 bags of litter being collected by the council. The Love Where You Live campaign will continue with further community litter picks, again supported by McDonald’s, held later in the year.
The campaign feeds into the council’s ongoing scheme ‘Team Up to Clean Up’, which encourages the wider public to organise their own community litter pick events across North Devon. As part of this, the council can offer advice and loan equipment to groups committed to keeping neighbourhoods, beaches and public open spaces clean and litter-free. For more information about Team Up To Clean Up, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO: Cllr Rodney Cann, McDonald’s franchisee David Hunt and Helen Morse from NDC at the launch of the clean-up.
Quantock Hills AONB Rangers Rebekah and Dave have been out in the Quantocks this month with a power sprayer and a scrubbing brush cleaning up our heritage finger post signs.
These finger post signs are actually rather special. They are all original cast iron road signs, relics from the early days of motoring and distinctive to Somerset; many of these signs date back to the early part of the last century. In 2001 our Quantock Hills AONB Ranger Tim Russell recorded the condition of all road signs throughout the area and applied for Heritage Lottery funding to restore and repair 30 finger post signs within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in order to return them to their former glory, but also to help identify the area as a protected landscape.
In most cases the core of these old posts was rusted away and so the whole signpost had to be stripped down and a new core put in place before reconstruction could take place. New arms and collars were also needed. Moulds were taken of original arms, posts, spacers and finials and new pieces were forged at Cerdic Foundries in Chard in a traditional way. Staff from Somerset County Council’s Highways department helped with this major work and an army of volunteers assisted with the painting of restored signs and name collars.
A total of 30 signs were completely restored and had their unique historic junction names added on the triangular collars. These signs are spread throughout the AONB and every Parish has at least one restored signpost. These run from West Quantoxhead in the north west of the AONB to West Monkton in the south east.
This was no small project. Funding was awarded by The Countryside Agency, Heritage Lottery Fund, Local Heritage Initiative, Nationwide, Friends of Quantock, Somerset County Council and the Quantock Hills AONB Service. They make up an important part of our manmade landscape that is also worthy of protection.
Redundant sheep pens in South Molton are being removed to provide extra parking in the town.
North Devon Council is removing the old sheep pens on Southley Road, along with redundant agricultural buildings, to provide 100 more parking spaces to the rear of the Amory Centre.
The council’s contractors, JTT Contracting Ltd, will also be demolishing the empty, former South Molton Recycle building, including the large storage unit (Bond Store) and garages. This area will then be fenced off and left secure.
North Devon Council Leader, Councillor Des Brailey, says: “The old sheep pen area is wasted space at the moment, so I’m glad to see work begin on stripping it out to provide more central parking in the town. Taking down the old SMR building and garages will also improve the look of the central area. Once the buildings have been removed the area will be safely fenced off.”
Work began on Monday (27 July) and will take six weeks to complete.
North Devon has recently taken delivery of the first of two Co-cars, introducing the district’s first pay-as-you-drive car club.
On Friday 12 June, a Toyota Yaris hybrid and two designated parking bays were unveiled in Barnstaple, at the town’s Civic Centre and North Devon Homes’ car park in Whiddon Valley.
Part-funded by Devon County Council, the Department for Transport through CarPlus and North Devon Council, Co-cars offers its cars for hire to members by the hour, with pick-up and return to the specially-reserved parking bays.
Mark Hodgson, founder and managing director of Co-cars, says: “Co-cars makes the whole process of car sharing exceptionally easy. We’ve worked hard to streamline the process down to a Click, Swipe and Vroom. Members simply book a car by clicking a PC, tablet or mobile phone, then swipe their membership card against the windscreen to unlock the car – and finally they “vroom”: drive off. It couldn’t be easier!
“This adds up to a very cost-effective and time-effective option to car ownership for young professionals and families who only need to use a car for limited periods of time. It will also appeal to North Devon tourism businesses whose clients arrive by public transport, but who would value occasional access to a car in order to explore the region.”
Executive Member for Environment, Cllr Rodney Cann, says: “The beauty of Co-cars is you get access to a car when you want it and only pay when you use it. As well as saving you money, it’s hassle free and a greener travel option. It’s really easy to use and we hope it will give local businesses greater scope for travel in and around the district. For example, it means you can travel to Barnstaple on the train or bus and collect a Co-car to complete your journey. Or you might want to drive outside the district for business, without adding mileage to your own car.”
Individual and household membership costs just £25 per year, while business membership is free. Each hire costs just £3.80 per hour, with a cap at £33 per week day and £24 per weekend day, plus 23p per mile. Co-cars also has a range of multi-day discounts and regular special offers. Fuel, insurance, tax, maintenance and emergency cover are all included.
Co-cars is already operating successfully in Exeter, Topsham, Taunton, Dorchester, Weymouth, and Blandford Forum. Co-cars membership includes access to all Co-cars in Devon, Somerset and Dorset.
A member of the Co-cars team will be at the Pilton Green Man Festival on Saturday 18 July, with their new Barnstaple car. Their Pilton-based Development Worker, Donna Sibley, will be on hand to answer questions about Co-cars membership as well as about car clubs and the hybrid vehicle in general.
There are several memberships available for individuals, households, organisations and employees. for more information, go to www.co-cars.co.uk, call 03453 452544 or email email@example.com.
Work began this week to install pay-on-exit parking machines at two North Devon Council car parks in Barnstaple.
Bear Street and Hardaway Head (site of former Queen Street multi-storey) have been chosen to carry out the pilot parking project. This is to see if customers prefer to pay for the time they have parked rounded up to the hour, over the traditional pay and display method.
It will take about two weeks to lay the cabling and install the barriers and new payment machines. Both car parks will remain open during the work, with the contractor working on small sections of the car park at a time to minimise disruption.
The barrier system will involve customers obtaining a ticket for entry and paying the fee as they leave. It will mean they won’t have to rush back to their vehicles if their ticket is running out, which town centre businesses feel prevents people staying as long as they would like.
Executive Member for Economic Regeneration, Councillor Malcolm Prowse, says: “Hopefully this work shouldn’t cause too much disruption to car park users, as we will be working in stages and keeping both car parks open throughout.
“We had hoped to have this up and running before Christmas, but due to technical issues this hasn’t been possible. Therefore, the new pay-on-exit machines will go live in January.”
The council is introducing the scheme following feedback from local businesses, who believe the alternative method of payment will benefit the town. If the scheme is successful it could be rolled out to other council car parks in the district.
The pay-on-exit system at Bear Street and Hardaway Head will be launched in January 2015.