CRAFTERS RALLY TO DECORATE DUNSTER VILLAGE THIS SUMMER

Crafters of all ages are dusting off their sewing machines and seeking out remnants of fabric to make bunting to adorn the medieval village of Dunster this summer. The brainchild of the team at the Dunster Tourism Forum (DTF), the idea is to bring the community together to make this beautiful village even more attractive to visitors once lockdown is over.

The DTF has been amazed by the response to their call for willing crafters to help sew their way to a pretty display of hand-made bunting this summer. People up and down the village – as well as Exmoor locals who love Dunster – have answered the call to create bunting flags from old curtains and duvet covers, scraps of dressmaking material and unwanted clothing. The plan is to decorate the village from the Visitor Centre, down through the High Street, up Church Street, West Street and to the GP Surgery at the end of the village. The wonderful beach chalet community are also coming together to create bunting across the iconic waterfront.

Andy Rice, Chairman of the DTF, says: “It’s been heart-warming to see the massive response to what was just one Facebook post asking for volunteers to help decorate our village this summer as we look forward to the end of lockdown.

“Even though we can’t be together in person at the moment, this community effort has been a great way of our villagers keeping in touch with one another, and maintaining our ‘can-do’ spirit. Plus, with so many people getting involved, we’ve got our eye on the Guinness World Record for the longest hand-made bunting in the UK – but we’ll need a lot more volunteers to achieve that.”

Villager Susan Ashton (pictured) is leading the volunteers, and hopes many more people will come forward to create bunting flags in their spare hours during this extended lockdown period. While strictly exercising social distancing, crafters are following a pattern and ‘how to’ videos posted on the community’s Facebook page, and delivering them to Susan who will bring them all together.

Susan says: “The bunting is easy to make, so stitchers of all levels of expertise can get involved. It’s a great way to spend time during lockdown, and to use up scraps of fabric and material, which has the added benefit of making it a sustainable activity. I’ve been posting videos on Facebook to show how to cut the template and construct the bunting, and I’m enjoying that so much that we have a Zoom chat planned where we can show each other what we’ve created.”

If you’d like to be part of this community effort, and help achieve that Guinness World Record,  please contact bunting@group365.co.uk to get involved. You don’t need to live or work in Dunster, and all contributors will be mentioned on their Facebook page and entered into a prize draw to win one of four vouchers worth £15 to spend in the village.

For those of you on Facebook, full information, templates and a helpful video can be found at: www.facebook.com/discoverdunster

Photos by Nina Dodd.

THE STORY OF DREAM ALLIANCE GALLOPS TOWARDS THE SILVER SCREEN: ELAINE PEARCE TALKS TO TRAINER PHILIP HOBBS

“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle”, Winston Churchill once famously remarked.

That rings true for many of us and none less so than Minehead’s famous couple, Sarah and Philip Hobbs of Sandhill Racing Stables.

Philip was raised on his family’s farm with homebred racehorses which his father trained. He proved to be a successful jockey from a young age and competed with his Pony Club team in the Prince Philip Games. He took to showjumping (and he was later to compete successfully at Hickstead).

But little did 13-year-old Philip realise that the 11-year-old girl he was competing against at Exford Show was to be his future wife, Sarah. It was the Puissance competition and with four rounds already jumped they were the only two remaining competitors.

“My father asked Sarah’s father if we could share the prize money. (Sarah’s father, incidentally, was the famous late Bertie Hill, Olympic Gold Medallist and the first British rider to compete in three equestrian Olympiads and probably best known for partnering the Queen’s horse, Countryman to Olympic Gold in 1956 at Stockholm). Our ponies had already competed in several other classes and my father thought they had done enough. It was agreed and we had to share the £6 first prize!”

Even their ponies were (unintentionally) related. “My pony was a 14.2hh piebald (black and white) pony called ‘Anything’, who jumped into a field with a yearling TB filly and produced Sarah’s skewbald (brown and white) pony called ‘Simon’!”

Philip enjoyed a spell of riding winners at point-to-points and then rode first as an amateur jockey before turning professional at the age of 21. Life-threatening injuries go with the territory but in Philip’s case there was nothing too serious. He was race riding with the likes of Paul Nicholls and Jonjo O’Neill, both of whom are now highly successful trainers.

Around this time Sarah was living with her family at Great Rapscott, near South Molton, following in her father’s footsteps by representing her country in the European Junior Championships in Rome and riding successfully in three-day events. When she wasn’t eventing she was enjoying riding in point-to-points.

Philip and Sarah married in1982 and Philip’s career as a trainer began in 1985 with six horses. North Yard was the very first horse that he sent out. Not only did he win but he was ridden by Philip, and out of his first eight runners came another five winners.

“I organised Sarah some rides under National Hunt Rules and she actually won on our first-ever flat race on a horse called ‘Aswamedh’. She also rode several winners over hurdles before starting our family.”

The success continued; Philip is now recognised as one of the best trainers in the country, having 111 horses in training. There are, however, two people who are not greatly impressed: namely Philip and Sarah’s two little grandsons, two-year-old Hubert and four-year-old Ernest, who show no interest whatsoever in racing or watching Grandpa (or Grandma) on TV!

We are all having to come to terms with the  Coronavirus situation. The very day that I was speaking with Philip, he should have been on his way to Aintree, for the Grand National meeting.

“You must be hugely disappointed?” I asked him. Philosophically, he replied, “Well, I don’t feel so bad, knowing that all the other trainers are in the same boat and it is not just me who is in lockdown. In fact, I feel sorry for the small businesses and such like as they will find recovery very hard.”

And as for ‘racing behind closed doors’? (that was when, for a short time, horse racing in the UK was closed to spectators with limited attendees). “Well, I found that to work very well”. But it didn’t last, and Philip, with his members of staff, now reduced to 14, are preparing the horses for their summer holidays.

I asked Philip what he thought were the qualities of a good trainer and he said, very definitely, “organisation”! I must admit I had been pondering how on earth one could manage not only 111 horses in training (= 111+ owners to keep informed!), which races to run them in and, as if that weren’t enough, overseeing the daily writing-up of the ‘white board’ (the lists stating which staff member, or stable jockey, is going to ride which horse), noting the health of each, and myriad other things besides. And, of course, the training programme!

“You must have a good empathy with horses and an understanding of the different personalities of each. But nothing beats experience and that only comes with training many horses that, over time, throw up a variety of problems… but I would say that as I get older!

“When it comes to feeding the horses, science doesn’t seem to have played much part in improving a horse’s performance. It all comes back to knowing your horses as individuals.”

One of the best-known among Philip’s horses was Dream Alliance, who came to his yard as a four-year-old, having been born on an allotment in Wales. During the five years that he was with Philip he won the Welsh Grand National. It was a rags-to-riches dream come true and a documentary called ‘Dark Horse’ was made about him. Now a feature film, entitled ‘Dream Horse’, has been made of the story and it has many Welsh connections, with Euros Lyn directing. Damian Lewis and Toni Collette take the title roles.

Dream Horse trailer

It was filmed at Newbury, Chepstow and Aintree racetracks, with the horses being provided by Wales’ top trainer, Tim Vaughan, and another four or five from a company called ‘Devil’s Horsemen’. This company supply the film industry with horses, one of which is the Lloyds Bank’s famous ‘Black Horse’.

Tim’s facilities at Pant Wilkin were used, even his bedroom! His Assistant Trainer, Robbie Llewellyn, supervised their horses whilst the company oversaw the racing scenes, in which Tim’s stable staff and his two stable jockeys, Charlie Price and Alan Johns, delighted in participating. It was very exciting for Tim and Abbi’s children, especially for 12-year-old Edward who is a champion pony racer in his own right and for 11-year-old Grace, who took the Reserve Champion Show Hunter Pony at last year’s Horse of the Year Show at the NEC.

In common with Philip’s grandsons, Tim’s youngest, six-year-old Henry, prefers to play with tractors.

“The film should’ve come out a week or so ago, in America,” said Philip, “but it has been delayed by the Coronavirus.”

Philip and Sarah much enjoyed the preview, although Philip did find it a little strange to find himself on the big screen being portrayed by somebody else!

There is a trailer currently on YouTube, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkaU4tFh1bw

Thank you to Philip for giving so generously of his time to talk to me during this challenging period.

PHOTO: The Sandhill Racing Stables team

THE UNFOLDING STORY OF THE LITTLE BOOKS OF WALKS

By Lucy Green, Exmoor Character Cottages, March 2020

During the summer of 2019, photographer Julia Amies-Green and I started work on a project we’d long talked of, a book of Exmoor walks. Julia has an enviable library of images that bring this beautiful National Park to life as no other map or guide can. She’s been walking Exmoor, photographing its landscape and wildlife, for two decades. A book seemed the perfect way to share her images and provide a reason to enjoy the best of Exmoor.

Julia has a unique way of capturing Exmoor’s essence in her photographs. You can feel the spongy grass beneath your feet, imagine the cool mist on your skin, taste snowflakes on your tongue, and let your imagination float away to the gurgling of streams and waterfalls – just by looking at her work. These are photographs to be savoured and shared, and I think the finished book of 12 self-guided tours achieves that beautifully.

The intention was to self-publish it and give to my guests at my four self-catering cottages in Minehead and Dunster. During the Autumn and Winter of 2019, my friend Josh and I walked the intended routes most weekends, checking the directions, sussing out logistics and sampling local tea rooms and pubs – purely for research purposes of course!

Periwinkle Cottage Tearooms at Selworthy
Periwinkle Cottage Tearooms at Selworthy

For me, this book is a love story. For, if I already thought I loved Exmoor, I fell totally under its spell during this time. During the research phase I uncovered information on ancient and modern history, geography, geology and nature, and the day trips revealed windswept coastline, lush fields, picturesque villages and mossy woods.

The walks are organised as one per month, printed as a leaflet in a handy folder so walkers can take one or two with them on day trips. We have given you the distance, level of difficulty and details on parking, toilets, dog friendliness and accessibility. Unlike some of the maps we relied on, they’re laminated to protect them from the Exmoor weather – something we encountered on the Horner Wood walk where we got lashed by torrential rain and spattered in mud! Drying off in front of a roaring fire at the nearby tearoom is a cherished memory.

So, here are our chosen dozen. We hope you’ll get to experience one or two of them next time you come to visit, once it is safe to do so, and that some of the magic of Exmoor, encapsulated in Julia’s wonderful photographs, will conjure up happy, treasured memories for you.

  • January – Dunkery Beacon – the highest point on Exmoor
  • February – A spring spectacle in Snowdrop Valley
  • March – Romance and drama in Lorna Doone Country
  • April – The awe-inspiring Valley of Rocks
  • May – A sub-tropical experience in Dunster Castle’s gardens
  • June – Walking in the footsteps of poets in Porlock Weir
  • July – Panoramic views of Somerset, Devon and Wales from the South West Coast Path
  • August – Coastal panoramas at Bossington
  • September – Picture-perfect thatched cottages at Selworthy Green
  • October – Ancient oaks and lime green lichen in Horner Wood
  • November – 4,000-year-old ancient clapper bridge at Tarr Steps
  • December – Christmas spirit in the medieval village of Dunster

The Little Book of Walks will be available in due course in local shops, tourist information centres and to guests of Exmoor Character Cottages. If you would like to see more of Julia’s photographs, visit the social media pages for Exmoor Character Cottages.

www.facebook.com/ExmoorCharacterCottages/

and Julia’s Facebook Page’. www.facebook.com/Delicious-Exmoor-by-Julia-Amies-Green-1277859999011622/

plus

www.instagram.com/exmoor_character_cottages/

 Photos by Julia Amies-Green

 

‘THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING OUR PLACE OF WORK’ SAY EXMOOR FARMERS

Ahead of the Easter weekend, Exmoor National Park Authority along with the Exmoor Hill Farming Network is reminding people to stay close to home during the coronavirus pandemic and to take extra care when exercising on public rights of way that pass near farms or homes.

Dave Knight, Chairman of the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, said: “Spring is always a busy time on the farm with lambing and calving. Farmers are literally working around the clock to help feed the nation and it’s understandable they don’t want the extra worry of contamination to gates and property. Ultimately this is our place of work so I’m pleased that most people are being respectful of that by using alternative routes where possible and sticking to government guidelines.”

Some farmers and residents have voiced concerns about increased use of public rights of way by local people following the lockdown restrictions. In response the National Park has produced an easily downloadable poster on their website that can be displayed to remind people of the Coronavirus Countryside Code:

  1. Use open spaces near where you live.
  2. Stay least 2 metres away from other people.
  3. Avoid touching shared surfaces and clean hands regularly.
  4. Leave gates as you find them.
  5. Keep dogs under close control (at heel or on a lead).

Defra advice is that risk of the coronavirus being passed on to others from people using public rights of way is very low if they follow these simple steps.

Exmoor National Park Authority Chairman, Robin Milton, farms sheep and cattle with his son near Dulverton. He said: “We ask local people to remember that many of the rights of way, paths, gates and stiles they might encounter on Exmoor are on farmers’ land and near their homes, where they are carrying out essential work.

“Whilst exercising is essential for physical and mental wellbeing, I ask everyone to respect the ban on non-essential travel and wherever possible to seek routes away from rural homes and farms when using local paths.

“By taking these simple steps, we are all doing our bit to protect our brave NHS workers and save lives.”

The law in England does not allow the National Park Authority to close any part of the public rights of way network for COVID-19 reasons. But anyone with concerns about public access can contact the National Park’s Ranger team for advice at info@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk or 01398 323665.

For further information about safe rights of way use or to download the poster see: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/out-and-about-essentials.

NEW GRANT SCHEME TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF NORTH DEVON COMMUNITY AND VOLUNTARY GROUPS DURING COVID-19 OUTBREAK

Local councils are joining together to provide a new grant scheme to help fund the vital work of North Devon community and voluntary groups during the coronavirus outbreak.

North Devon Council is joining with Devon County Council in the new COVID-19 Prompt Action Fund providing grants of up to £500. Both councils are contributing 50% of the total of the grants awarded to each group with funding partly coming from contributions from each North Devon district councillor’s community councillor grant for the year.

The grants have been introduced to help tackle the social and economic impacts of the virus outbreak and help those who are most vulnerable in North Devon communities, they can be used towards activities including:

  • safe delivery of essential goods and services to people who are isolating, including food and medicine
  • supporting people to access online information and services
  • starting virtual support groups to help people who are isolated to stay connected and to improve mental health and wellbeing
  • transport related projects, including the use of voluntary car schemes to deliver essentials, medicine and meals

Applications are invited from established Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector groups, town and parish councils, charities or businesses, or a combination of these working together.

Groups, small local businesses and individuals without their own separate bank account may also apply, but they will need to have the support of a recognised organisation – such as town and parish council, local Community and Voluntary Services (CVS) organisation, village hall or other established local voluntary groups – acting on their behalf as guarantor or as the holder of the funding.

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden, says: “I’m incredibly proud that North Devon Council has this opportunity to work alongside Devon County Council and help further support the vital work of our community and voluntary groups during this really challenging time. The work provided by these groups across the district is absolutely amazing and vitally important to helping our residents get through this difficult time. I am also extremely pleased that each district councillor, whatever their political background, has chosen to contribute financially to this scheme.”

Cabinet Member for Communities at Devon County Council, Councillor Roger Croad, says: “At extremely challenging times like this it is important that we all work together to support our residents, especially the most vulnerable.

“I’m particularly pleased that North Devon Council are joining the COVID – 19 Prompt Action Fund which has received in excess of 260 applications from organisations across the county already, after opening just over two weeks ago.

“This funding will help volunteer groups in Devon continue their vital work to tackle the impacts of the coronavirus in their communities and offer support to those in need.”

More information about the fund and how to apply can be found on the North Devon Council coronavirus support for groups and volunteers web pages.

Keep up to date with the latest coronavirus news, information and support available to residents, groups and businesses on the council websites and by signing up for e bulletins

North Devon Council – coronavirus advice – newsletter sign up

Devon County Council – coronavirus advice – newsletter sign up

 

WELLINGTON SCHOOL ACT DURING THE CRISIS

Meanwhile, over at Wellington School, although the doors are closed, the school remains committed to doing everything possible to support the local community. Here are some of the steps which they have taken:

  • Car parks have been given over to overflow patients from the local hospital
  • The Headmaster, Eugene du Toit, is in communication with local hospitals to offer the school’s boarding houses to NHS staff who will be working long shifts or who need to self-isolate. There is also the possibility that certain categories of patients (e.g. those in long-term care, but who don’t have critical medical issues) could use our boarding houses if beds need to be made available to cope with COVID-19 related pressures
  • So far, 55 pairs of goggles and hundreds of surgical gloves have been donated to the procurement department of Musgrove Hospital
  • Children of key workers continue to be looked after by staff, with activity primarily based in the Prep School.

The pupils have a full remote learning programme in place. The timetable is stuck to rigidly, with skype sessions, learning platforms and resources in place to ensure lessons are delivered.

The Headmaster delivered his end-of-term assembly remotely to all the community and reminded them that, “Wellington School is not defined by whether or not we are all in one place at the same time. We are defined by our sense of community, the lengths we go to in supporting one another, our indefatigable spirit in rising to a challenge. We are in this together and we will get through this together.”

WEST BUCKLAND SCHOOL SUPPORT LOCAL MEDICS BY PRODUCING FACE PROTECTION MASKS

West Buckland School’s Design and Technology Department has responded to the urgent need for PPE (personal protection equipment) for key workers in North Devon, by starting to make plastic face masks using the school’s 3-D printer.

In addition, the science departments at the school have donated all the safety goggles and glasses that they currently have in stock, to local doctors’ surgeries in North Devon and the school’s caterers have donated fruit and veg waste to Exmoor Zoo to feed to their animals.

Initially approached by a local GP surgery, the DT team sourced a template for the PPE face masks off the internet and used PLA (polylactide), a biodegradable material which is both suitable to protect medical staff when treating potential Covid-19 patients and can also be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. Production is in full swing and already the school has been able to supply protective masks to North Devon Hospice and South Molton Community Hospital who are both delighted. A spokeswoman from the hospice said: “Thank you so much. This is very thoughtful and innovative of you.”

The school are hoping to continue to produce more masks as long as there is a need. They have begun to co-ordinate a small team of individuals and local companies who own 3-D printers and there are several other companies across the region who are doing similar excellent work, ensuring that as many key workers across the region as possible can receive the vital protection they need.