Post by Claire Reed, Head Gardener at Hestercombe

I’m sure that like many of us you have all found it very difficult watching the plight of thousands of refugees fleeing their homes to escape such awful conditions. After talking with friends, we all agreed that we wanted to actually ‘do’ something physical to help. So, recently, I have been involved in setting up a local project called ‘Grow for Syria’.

The project aims to raise money and awareness for Help Refugees UK and support the amazing work that they carry out. We looked at our skill base (we are mainly all gardeners) and our friendship groups to see what we could achieve and how we could raise funds. A project called Cook for Syria had really inspired me. The organisers had collaborated with chefs and refugees to create a cook book of Syrian-based recipes. I loved the fact that the book was producing something positive and sharing cultures. The book has been a sell out. I think that reaching out through food and gardening, basic everyday pleasures that bring people together, to build communities really works. And so Grow for Syria was born.

So what are we up to?

I have been raising money by offering to act as a garden adviser at individuals’ gardens (within a reasonable distance). I will spend an hour in the garden with them, discussing design ideas, plant ideas and general advice.

I have also been in touch with seed companies. Seed packets have a sell-by date after which they can’t be sold as viability and the percentage of germination rate cannot be guaranteed. Often the seed will still germinate but, due to seed law, the company has to guarantee a certain rate. Several companies were happy to give me their seeds. These packets have been handed on to various individuals and groups. The idea is that they will sow and grow the seeds and then either arrange their own plant sales to sell on the plants, or pass the plants back to me to sell on.

Local gardening clubs have also been involved. They are supplying any leftover packets of seeds, extra pots of seedlings that they don’t need (we’ve all done it – sown the whole packet of courgettes just in case they don’t all germinate… and then they do and you’re left wondering if you can fit 32 courgette plants in your garden!). Any plants that are being divided, dug out and propagated can all be sold in a plant sale for Help Refugees UK.

It’s exciting. I’ve met some amazing people through the project, many of whom feel the same as me and just wanted to physically do something to help. We have already had a seed swap and sale in Wiveliscombe as a fundraiser and we have a few events coming up.

Dates for your diary:
When: 28th May 2017
Where: Stoke St Mary

What: Stoke St Mary Soap Box Derby – not only is this a great family event, there are lots of stalls including one where I will be selling plants for Grow for Syria. For a donation you can ask me a question about your garden too!

When: 18th June 2017
Where: JWBlooms flower field at Hillcommon.

What: JWBlooms is run by Jan who grows organic cut flowers mainly for weddings and occasions. From the 9th April the field is open to public every Sunday for tea, coffee and cakes, and a stroll around the flowers. It’s a beautiful setting and I highly recommend it. Jan will have a permanent stand of plants you can buy to support Grow for Syria but on the 18th June we are arranging a special Gardeners Question Time type event where a panel of experts will be on hand to answer your questions. Confirmed panel members includes myself, Damien Mitchell (head gardener at Lytes Cary), Sarah Venn (Edible Bristol), Ahsley Wheeler (veg grower at Trill Farm) and Danny Burlingham (head gardener at Forde Abbey).

For more info please go to the JWBlooms website

Currently you can follow Grow for Syria on Instagram
Otherwise if you want to help please get in touch

PHOTO: Claire Reed at Hestercombe by Chris Lacey Photography courtesy Hestercombe Gardens.


Acclaimed folk duo Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith will be appearing at Halsway Manor near Crowcombe on Sunday 7 May at 7pm, for an early-evening ‘unplugged’ performance.

“Every now and then an act jumps out at you and knocks you back,” says folk broadcaster Mike Harding. “Top notch” is the verdict of Folk Radio, “rousing stuff” say the Observer, while “Everyone at fRoots is pretty excited about Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, and for good reason” (fRoots Magazine).

Jimmy and Sid arrived on the scene in 2014 with their unique style of strong harmony singing and considered musical arrangements. Recent album ‘Night Hours’ (Fellside Records) won the duo both critical and audience acclaim, with the pair becoming festival favourites last year, and their success is set to continue with a new album released this summer.

Jimmy and Sid play traditional and original folksong of the British Isles. They tell stories of hardship, joy, struggle and celebration held together with driving banjo and guitar arrangements and close vocal harmonies. They have both been heavily influenced by the songs and singers of East Anglia, where they both grew up, but their music also reflects the diversity of voices within the folk and acoustic world. They weave traditional English folksong with Irish, Scottish and American tunes, and their own compositions draw on many different styles.

The songs on their new album have been picked up from sessions, singarounds, gigs, recordings and learned from friends. The stories are varied but there is a common thread of political struggle and resistance, and the decline of the industries that were the backbone of England for many generations.

Halsway Manor, National Centre for Folk Arts, has been established as a charity since 1965. Nestling at the foot of the Quantock Hills, it provides a year-round programme of events and activities in traditional folk music, dance, song, storytelling, folklore and related arts and crafts. There’s ample free parking onsite, a bar and – of course – beautiful atmospheric settings for concerts with wonderful acoustics, and a chance to catch-up with the artists over a drink afterwards!

Tickets for the gig are priced £10 / £4 for anyone in full-time education. To book, call 01984 618274 (option 1), email or buy securely online


Regional charity South West Lakes Trust has launched the ultimate family ‘to do’ list. Put down the iPads, immerse yourself in nature and fill your summer with new adventures and experiences with South West Lakes Trust’s ‘101 thing to do this summer’ booklet.

From dramatic tors, open moorland and historical ancient monuments, to wildlife-rich woodlands, lakes and ponds – the lakes really are the ultimate children’s playground! Little adventurers will love exploring and discovering all of the fun things to do!

South West Lakes Trust takes great pride in the care it provides to over 40 inland waters, from the tip of Cornwall to West Somerset, ranging in size from 1 to 900 acres! Some sites provide unrivalled public access to watersports, angling, walking and cycling. Other more sensitive sites, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or Local Nature Reserves, are managed by the charity’s dedicated Countryside Team.

Explore the South West lakes and discover all the fun things to do as a family. Climb trees, build dens, go on a mini-beast hunt, track animal footprints or take to the water and experience something different – stand up on a paddleboard, race in kayaks or shout ‘arrr’ from a boat.

Andy Parsons, Chief Executive of South West Lakes Trust, said, “We are passionate about people from all walks of life being able to benefit from the wonderful countryside around our lakes. Our work is based around five themes that underpin the work of our charity and our people, one being ‘Play and Explore’. Fewer children are getting a chance to climb trees or play hide and seek in a woodland, so through our ‘Play and Explore’ campaign we aim to provide places for young people and their families to play together. Our 101 things to do this summer booklet is the perfect ‘to do’ list – getting more families outdoors and exploring.”

Download your copy for free from or purchase a booklet for only £2 from the activity centres or cafés at Stithians Lake near Redruth, Siblyback Lake near Liskeard, Tamar Lakes near Bude, Roadford Lake near Launceston or Wimbleball Lake near Dulverton. You can also download activity sheets, too – get your kids identifying trees, discovering bugs and learning through playful quizzes.

Tick off all the things you and your children have tried and share your adventures with us #101swlakes. How many can you do?

For more information visit the South West Lakes website or call 01566 771930.


Four Year 9 pupils from King’s College have recently won a prize in a local competition to write a new tune for the carillon in St Mary Magdalene Church in Taunton.

Following the replacement of the bells in the church tower, a competition was launched, asking local school students to create a new chime.

The competition organisers were impressed with the standard of entries and were faced with the difficult task of choosing the winners. In the 11-14 age group the joint winners were two pairs from King’s: Callie Stead and Jenna Kirby with ‘Gather Round’, and Charlie Spurr and Finley Payne with ‘Church Bells Sound’.

Commenting on their success, King’s College’s Director of Music, Colin Albery said: “This is fantastic, to have two pairs as the joint winners, and all four from King’s. It just goes to show that those Third Form music lessons have been paying off! I congratulate these pupils wholeheartedly on such a great achievement. Keep up the good work.”

The church will be holding a special service on Sunday 30 April with the theme ‘What do our bells say when they ring out and what should they say?’ The speaker will be Marcus Paul, formerly Deputy Head of Queen’s College. During the service the winners of the competition will hear their tune played on the new carillon for the very first time. The winners will have the opportunity to see how their music is transferred to the carillon and to go up to the ringing room to see the bells.


From Tintinhull to a simple trellis, from historic Hestercombe to a humble vegetable patch, communities across Somerset share a long-standing passion for gardens. That’s why, on Sunday 14 May, the county will hold the first ever Somerset Garden Day with a simple ambition in mind: to encourage people to down tools and spend some quality time celebrating their gardens.

Taking part in Somerset Garden Day couldn’t be easier: just find a fun and relaxing way to celebrate your garden space on Sunday 14 May. How you celebrate is completely up to you – it could be hosting a family picnic, inviting friends round for a barbeque or sharing afternoon tea with your neighbours. There are no rules about how to celebrate and anyone and everyone can take part, regardless of age or gardening experience. The most important thing is for everyone to spend time relaxing and enjoying their gardens on Sunday 14 May!

While Somerset is home to some of the world’s most famous gardens, Somerset Garden Day is unique because it encourages people to spend quality time appreciating their own. Somerset Garden Day is about celebrating the county’s gardening efforts in all its shapes and forms, whether you have a rolling lawn and flowerbeds, a patio of potted plants or a simple kitchen herb garden. Villages, towns and cities across the county are being encouraged to spread the word about Somerset Garden Day to encourage as many people as possible to get involved in the celebrations on Sunday 14 May.

In particular, Somerset Garden Day hopes to inspire more people to experience the wonderful wellbeing benefits that gardens and gardening can bring. A King’s Fund report published last year (2016) has shown that spending more time in gardens can help to combat stress and enhance mental and physical health. It is hoped that Somerset Garden Day will help renew people’s passion for gardens and perhaps spark a new interest for those who haven’t been interested in gardening in the past.

Garden centres and gardening groups across the county will be taking part in Somerset Garden Day, providing ideas and incentives for people to get involved. The website – – offers a range of activity ideas for the day including picnics, barbeques, outdoor games and nature trails. Those taking part are being encouraged to share their preparations and celebrations using #SomersetGardenDay.

So this Somerset Garden Day, it’s time to down tools and celebrate the fruits of your gardening labour! For more information about how to take part, visit or share your stories with #SomersetGardenDay.



The Quantocks Events Programme starts this weekend with a woodland spring flowers walk from Aisholt so we thought this would be a good time to share a post from the team at the Quantock Hills AONB…

Grab your rucksack and flask of sugary tea and come and join the Quantock Rangers as the Quantock Hills AONB Service launches its Events Programme for 2017.

Explore the Quantock Hills with our Rangers and Specialists in a series of guided walks throughout the year. Walks include hunting for fossils on our Jurassic Coast Walk, a Wellbeing Walk to help celebrate ‘Naturally Healthy Month’ in May, a Family Bushcraft Day, an evening Bats and Owls Walk and even a Quantock Quiz Walk for the walker who enjoys solving puzzles!

The programme also includes a set of special walks run by the Quantock Volunteer Rangers called Quantock Explorer Walks. These are specially designed to introduce you to different parts of the Quantock Hills and to find out more about the wildlife, plantlife and history of that part of the hills. From Fyne Court to Cothelstone, the Bicknoller loop and a Hill Fort Walk too.

We are also helping to promote others running guided walks on the Quantocks, including a series of walks at Durbourgh Farm including a Dawn Chorus Walk, a Spring Flowers Walk and in the autumn a Fungi Walk. Also, June brings the Quantock Walking Festival run by the Sedgemoor Ramblers.

Quantock AONB Manager Chris Edwards says: “These events are about experiencing the very best of the Quantock Hills, from the 200-million-year-old fossils on the Quantock coastline, to finding out more about how prehistoric people used and changed this landscape. It’s about enjoying the outstanding nature of this important and nationally recognised landscape.”

To book onto an event and to see the programme go to the Quantock Hills AONB website at you can also find us on Facebook at /Quantock.hills or on Twitter @quantockhills


This article by Sue South is taken from our summer 2014 issue. We thought that people might like to read it again…

The editor and I were talking on the phone about how to really encapsulate Exmoor on the cover of our nostalgic summer issue: “Well, I know just the picture that says ‘traditional Exmoor’ to me.”  And so will all those who have enjoyed the generous hospitality of the Woollacott family at Oareford Farm over the years.  This wonderfully evocative photo, taken for The Field magazine over 45 years ago (nobody can remember the exact date but Geraldine is clear that it was “before her time” – and she has been married to Brian, Jack’s son, for 40 years!), hangs proudly above the living room table.

“Don’t worry,” I said, as I set the tape going, “the editor has only asked me for 500 words and that’s nothing!” Brian was dismayed: “That’s more than I say in a year!” “Well, let’s get a year’s worth then!”

Jack Woollacott was born in 1895 and died in 1985.  Always a farmer and keen hunter, his 90th birthday will long be remembered as the first time there was a joint meet of the Exmoor Foxhounds and Devon & Somerset Staghounds.  Geraldine remembers that Jack was so poorly the night before the meet that “Susie, a family friend, sat with him all through the night, just giving him beer to get some liquid inside him to keep him going.”

Brian takes up the tale: “He’d had a bit of a turn, no-one had told him about the meet until a few days before, someone let it out and he just got a bit worked up about the meet and everything.”  In the event, hundreds of people turned up, despite the snow and ice.  “We started cooking the pasties at midnight because we didn’t know before then if we were going to go ahead.”  Twenty gallons of punch and two crates of scotch added to the enjoyment and very delicious and warming they were, I seem to remember!

When I asked the name of the horse featured in the picture (top), Brian said “Well, they didn’t always have names then; there was normally one in the stable so if we needed to ride out we would just go out to the yard and take the horse that was there.  When I was young we had the tractor and link box if a sheep had to be picked up, but normally it was just lots of walking.  Father never drove though, just rode the pony.

“At lambing time there was one helper, Raymond Vellacott, and myself, and the sheep came into a field closer to the farm, not into a shed.  Once that field got muddied up, we had to move on to the next.  It was just the cows around the shippons.  They were fed oaten sheaves but not the sheep.  The ewes weren’t fed then like they are now, so there was a lot more running around with a bottle of milk!  Once we started feeding them cake it was different.”

Jack Woollacott at Oareford Farm,

Having reflected, Brian and Geraldine agreed that the horse in the cover picture must have been Queenie.  Another which they recalled was ‘Pone’ (as in ‘bone’), an Exmoor Pony that Jack had for many years.  As well as shepherding and hunting on Pone, Jack regularly rode all the way to the Ship Inn at Porlock, where the pony was tethered under the archway, with Jack’s Mac thrown across its back.  Jack’s refreshment breaks could last for hours but Pone managed to get them both home safely.

“Did you hear the story of when Father was riding home one night, over the top of Porlock Hill, coming back from the Ship really late and he dozed off a bit in the saddle and his false teeth dropped out!  He couldn’t get off to pick them up because he knew he wouldn’t be able to get back up again.  So he waited for a bit and a car came along, he waved it down and said to the lady who got out, “Can you find my false teeth and pick them up for me?”  Which, bravely, she duly did.  Father never admitted to that; we heard it from her!”

Jack Woollacott passed away many years ago now, but stories like the brave rescue of his wayward false teeth have been flowing thick and fast these last 40 years, as if such happenings took place yesterday.  Like the picture in the living room, they take the listener straight back to a very different time and place – where tradition has tended to stick fast, and change, like lambing on Exmoor, comes late.

Thank you again to The Field for allowing us to use this image with the piece about Jack.


by Jenny McCubbin
For Bridgwater Choral Society

Saints and satyrs, cantatas and psalms – Bridgwater Choral Society is preparing a wide-ranging programme of twentieth-century music for your enjoyment at their next concert on Saturday 6 May which takes place at 7.30pm at Bridgwater Baptist Church.

Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) was a composer and conductor who embraced modernism. He composed music for ballet, film and later for television, and became Director of Music at the BBC where he was instrumental in setting up the Third Programme after World War II. His Pastoral was inspired by a trip to the classical landscape of Sicily in the late 1920s. He collected and set to music an ‘anthology’ of pastoral poems, arranged in the form of a day moving from first light through to evening. The setting is for choir, mezzo-soprano, flute, timpani and strings. Elgar admitted to being a little ‘puzzled’ by some of it but suitably flattered that Bliss had dedicated the work to him!

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) composed St Nicholas in the form on a cantata in nine scenes, describing the life, faith and miracles performed by St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, patron saint of children, sailors and travellers. The piece is for choir, tenor soloist, and children, and was premiered in 1948 at the first Aldburgh Festival. We are fortunate to welcome back tenor Dominick Felix as soloist, and to have members of the Taunton School choir joining us for this performance.

Both Bliss and Britten were influenced by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and we complete the programme with his Two Psalms for choir, organ and strings.

Please join us for the celebration concert on 6 May in Bridgwater.

The concert will take place in the Bridgwater Baptist Church (not St Mary’s as previously  advertised). This beautiful Grade II listed building was built in 1837 by Edwin Down and features a stunning classical frontage with pediment and cornice of Bath stone. It is located in St Mary Street, Bridgwater TA6 3LY.

Tickets are £10 and are available on the door or via our website Tickets are £10 for adults (under-16s go free but must be accompanied by an adult) or £8 for the Friends of Bridgwater Choral Society.



Here is our second blog from Becky Parker…

For most people Easter weekend is a time for relaxing, eating excessive amounts of chocolate, leisurely family strolls, perhaps a cheeky afternoon beverage in a country pub beer garden. For me and around 300 other mountain bikers, our Easter weekend looked a whole lot different…

Enduro mountain biking in its race form consists of six different timed downhill stages spaced out around an area which you must ride or push between. Your times over the six stages are added together at the end of the day and the fastest  rider overall wins.

Southern Enduro is an events company which organises Enduro events across all of Southern England. They run a series of four events from June to September, with the champs and a night enduro in May as extra stand-alone races.

The Southern Enduro championship took place just outside Minehead as a two-day race with practice on the Saturday and racing on the Sunday. Many riders camped overnight in the race village where sponsors had set up shops, local bike shops were on hand to fix bikes and food vans stayed open into the evening when there was music and a beer tent.

With near perfect weather conditions, there was immense excitement amongst riders about to be let loose on trails normally closed to the public. I took part in the race myself and I can safely say I did not see one rider not grinning from ear to end by the end of practice.

Event organiser Scott and his team did a fantastic job utilising existing trails and building a few extra to put together a great mix that would test rider’s technical skills, bravery and fitness, whilst still delivering a fun factor of 100%. All of the transitions were rideable (depending on your fitness level as there were some long old hills), sticking to fire roads that took you through beautiful forests. Occasionally you would come to a sudden opening with stunning views across the valley that would lift the spirits and distract you from aching legs. From the top of three to four they had included a great little traverse and descent on singletrack. Then the transition back over from four to five took you along the ridgeline with views over moorland right out to the sea where you could just about spot Wales in the distance.

Race day dawned to more blue skies and stoke level was high as we set out for the first climb. The schedule for the day was set up so that riders were set off in groups of 12 with a five-minute gap between. When you registered at the start of the day you could write your name on the board and choose your own group, the idea being that slower riders started first and elites had to go at the end of the day.

In the past I have suffered with nerves whilst racing, putting so much pressure on myself to do well that it has ruined the fun of the experience. So my main aim for this weekend was to stay calm, smile and enjoy the sociable side of Enduro that allows you to ride round all day with your friends. I tried to concentrate on enjoying just riding my bike somewhere new and embracing the excitement and energy that gives me. Other than a few nerves before stage two which was the steepest and most difficult of the day that literally EVERYONE was having issues with, I managed to stick to my plan.

There is a great camaraderie to mountain biking that transcends all ages, sex or ability barriers. You can almost forget your racing as you pedal around bumping into friends heading the other way, chattering to total randomers at the bottom of each stage when you’re all buzzing off the adrenaline telling stories of your various successes and mishaps so far that day.

Southern Enduro events include a ‘Fun’ category for men and women that is designed to encourage newcomers to the sport where they will be less intimidated by being ranked against more experienced and serious racers. This is such a fantastic idea and within the women I believe all of the fun category was made up of ladies new to enduro. It was fab to see 24 women racing altogether, an usually high number at a race this far south.

My own race went really well, with very few mistakes to leave me fourth out of ten in my senior category; a result I was very pleased with in such a competitive field. However, the greatest success of the weekend was the ultimate fun I had shredding new trails, learning lots and having a great laugh with friends old and new. Bikes are the best!

Useful links

Event organisers homepage –

Results and pictures from the event –

Link to enter Round 1 of the Southern Enduro series (entries opened on Saturday 22 April) –

PHOTOS  Courtesy Big Mac Photography


The well-known Exmoor Pony Centre, operated by the charity Moorland Mousie Trust, is facing imminent closure after trustees revealed a downturn in financial revenue. They have launched a Crowdfunder Appeal which has to reach its £20,000 target by 2 June.

The Moorland Mousie Trust, based near Dulverton on Exmoor, helps unwanted moor-bred Exmoor pony foals facing slaughter each autumn and operates a dedicated centre for their promotion and protection.

Opened in 2006, The Exmoor Pony Centre was a dream that the charity’s founders had after seeing the plight of these rare and endangered foals. Since then over 50,000 visitors have discovered the wonderful native Exmoor pony breed and over 300 moor-bred foals have found a future either as riding ponies or within conservation grazing herds throughout the UK and abroad.

This week, following several years of rising costs and decreasing income, the Trustees have sadly announced that unless the charity can find a minimum of £20,000 it will be unable to stay open. “This will also mean the closure of the popular riding, education and community outreach activities enjoyed by local visitors and tourists,” said Linzi Green, Centre Manager. “We are all terribly worried about the imminent threat of closure at the end of the summer, our target of £20,000 means that we would be able to continue for the rest of 2017 while we work to raise further funding which we hope will ensure our long-term survival.”

The Exmoor Pony Centre provides a vital service for the free-living Exmoor pony herds. With closure, not only would the foals have nowhere else to go but also public access to the breed would end. This unique interaction and opportunity to ride, developed over the last 11 years, fulfills a vital need in marketing the breed and encouraging future sales and support for the ponies.

In an attempt to prevent closure, a Crowdfunder Appeal is being launched to raise funds, organised by volunteer Gail Cheeseman. The Appeal was launched on April 21 on

Gail’s dedication to the centre and work in setting up the Appeal has been praised by the Trustees. “I just couldn’t sit by and watch the Centre close without us all having fought as hard as possible to raise the funds to stay open,” she said. “I have been supporting the charity for years and have seen first-hand the good work undertaken by trustees, staff and volunteers to improve the lives of these ponies.”

So many people and ponies have benefitted from the work of the Centre and although the charity Moorland Mousie Trust will continue, with a much smaller and less effective presence, the closing of the Centre will be a blow for all future foals bred on Exmoor.

Sarah Bryan, chief executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, stated:  “The Exmoor pony is an important part of Exmoor’s heritage and one of the National Park’s special qualities. Visitors and locals alike delight in seeing the free-living herds grazing the moor and we are sorry to learn that the Centre’s future is uncertain. We have worked with them for many years and we hope that people across the country and indeed the world will feel able to help.”

Fiona Dickson veterinary surgeon to the Moorland Mousie ponies commented: “It will be a devastating loss and a massive backward step in the safeguarding of the breed if the Exmoor Pony Centre were to close. The Moorland Mousie Trust and their work through the Centre is an integral part of the Exmoor pony’s future in finding homes, education and the rescue of ponies in difficulty. I hope this fundraising initiative helps to secure the future of the Centre and raises awareness of their plight.”

Activities will continue as normal throughout the summer, as revenue brought in by activity days and visitors will also assist in raising funds. You can find the centre’s activities on the facebook page or

To help or register your support, log on to and pledge whatever you can.

There are some great rewards on offer by donation through the appeal site and a video showing the work of the charity and Centre. You can also see some of the cute foals, all of which have had nowhere to go. The charity will also be pleased to accept donations by post and over the phone.

PHOTO: Taken for Exmoor Magazine by Jane A. Mares.