Boarders cycle to raise £1,000 for Northern Devon Foodbank

£1,000 has been raised by residents of Parker’s, West Buckland School’s Sixth Form boarding house, who cycled the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for the Northern Devon Food Bank.

When James Conlon, one of the Parker’s house parents, put the idea to the boarders, they were so enthusiastic about helping local people in need and every Sixth Form boarder completed at least ten miles on the bike in a Covid-safe, socially distanced way. Most of the boarders did double, treble or in some cases four times that amount. The school would like to extend a huge thank you to all the boarders and a number of staff members, including Headmaster, Mr Stapleton, who put in time and effort pedalling to complete the target.

A special mention must go to one of the boarders, Tora, who completed 80 miles on the bike!

When the boarders decided to do this challenge, the school hoped to raise £200, so everyone is delighted to have raised over £1,000 (including Gift Aid) and money is still coming in. That means Parker’s has helped 1,000 families access much-needed food. If you wish to donate, there is still time. Please click here:

West Buckland School would like to thank supporters for their generous donations and also James and the rest of the staff for organising and taking part in this event.

Children’s lockdown artwork raises Devon CPRE funds to protect countryside 

Vibrant paintings of the countryside created by Devon’s primary school children during this year’s first lockdown have provided the artwork for a new calendar produced by local countryside charity Devon CPRE.

Proceeds from the calendar will be used to fund the charity’s vital campaign work to safeguard Devon’s precious landscapes and green spaces for future generations.

Devon CPRE’s 2020 ‘My Outdoors’ Art Competition was a big hit with youngsters during this year’s spring lockdown, with more entries than ever before. Primary school pupils from across the county rose to the challenge of creating colourful images in celebration of Devon’s glorious countryside, even though many children were unable to experience the great outdoors at the time because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Devon CPRE Director Penny Mills says, “When we saw all the wonderful entries, we decided a calendar for 2021 would be the ideal way to showcase the children’s pictures whilst raising money for our campaign work. As you’d expect, the calendar is printed on environmentally friendly paper and includes the winning entries as well as some highly commended ones. It’s an ideal small gift to pop in the post for Christmas!”

The competition asked children to depict ‘My Outdoors’ in any medium of their choice.

  • St Peter’s Prep School at Lympstone near Exmouth won Best Overall School.
  • The individual winner in Key Stage 1 was six-year-old Betsy from St Peter’s Prep School, Lympstone, Exmouth for her seaside painting.
  • The joint winners in Key Stage 2 were 11-year-old Graciella from Pilton Bluecoat Academy, Barnstaple for her watercolour of Mannings Pit in North Devon (pictured at top) and 10-year-old Thomasin from St Peter’s Prep School, Lympstone who painted Bowerman’s Nose on Dartmoor.

The A4-size calendar costs just £7 including post & packaging. Copies are available to buy from or by calling 01392 966737.

Hazel Prior’s Penguins in the Book Club

Exmoor writer, Hazel Prior, was thrilled to learn that her latest novel, Away With The Penguins, has been chosen for the prestigious Richard and Judy Book Club. Away With The Penguins went through a rigorous selection process to reach the longlist, then it was read by Richard and Judy themselves (alongside a group of book industry experts) who picked it for the final selection.

“This news has been a marvellous boost,” says Hazel, whose book launch had to be cancelled, along with all the other author events she had scheduled for this year. “It’s a real privilege to meet Richard and Judy, and to have my novel picked out of all the thousands. I have to keep pinching myself.”

The book tells the story of feisty octogenarian millionairess, Veronica McCreedy, and her adventures in Antarctica with some penguins. It is a fun, uplifting read but also addresses serious issues about climate change, ageing, and the importance of family and community. “It’s a story full of hope,” Hazel says. “I want my writing to say something important, but also to entertain readers and help them feel better about life. I always turn to books myself during hard times and when I started writing I decided that I’d try to put something life-affirming out there. That has become more important than ever during these difficult times.”

Hazel’s debut novel, Ellie And The Harp Maker, is set on Exmoor and only came out last year. It is a quirky, lyrical read influenced by Hazel’s love of the local landscape and music (she is also a harpist). Inspired partly by the fact that she had a two-book deal with the publishers ‘Penguin’ and partly by a friend’s marvellous penguin photographs, Hazel decided to write her second novel based around these fascinating birds. She spent a lot of time researching and met a few penguins in the process.

Away With The Penguins has already been selected as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick, and Hazel had a conversation about her writing live on air with Jo Whiley earlier this year.

To coincide with the book’s paperback publication this week, Hazel had a private Zoom meeting with Richard and Judy themselves, who are always keen to meet the authors of the books they love. She chatted with them about living on Exmoor, writing and, of course, penguins. Richard and Judy’s famous Book Club, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this October, is run by WHSmiths, so Away With The Penguins (complete with a written interview between Hazel and Richard and Judy) will be stocked in all the branches of Smiths up and down the country as well as in Waterstones and other outlets.

You can read the announcement here.


Exmoor Ponies rescue the Exmoor Pony Project – with their compost!

After Covid restrictions obliterated normal income streams for the Exmoor Pony Project, it is the Exmoor ponies themselves who have galloped to the rescue – with their compost. Exmoor National Park Authority has now awarded a Partnership Fund Grant to help Exmoor Compost evolve a production process. 

Exmoor Pony Project founders Nick and Dawn Westcott, who farm on the National Trust Holnicote Estate in Porlock Vale, saw their 2020 plans for pony workshops, talks, events and activities dashed with the lockdown in March and Dawn found herself falling through the gaps with the Government’s Covid support. 

“As a self-employed author channelling income to run the Exmoor Pony Project, which is a conservation project rather than a business, I didn’t meet the ‘criteria’ for Central Government grant support and found myself one of the millions of ‘ExcludedUK’. We have over 30 Exmoor ponies, including orphans, from various moorland herds in our direct care and their management must be maintained yet the overheads continue regardless. When income streams disappear just like that, those costs put immense much pressure on the farm.”

Of course, caring for a large herd of Exmoor ponies also produces a large amount of manure, which the Westcotts have discovered has slowly matured into excellent compost. 

“Earlier this year, when I established our kitchen garden, Nick suggested I try some of the pony compost. It was superb stuff and, in June, after hearing there was a shortage of good compost in the area, we offered some bags of Exmoor Pony Multi-Purpose Compost as a fundraiser for the pony project, hoping local gardeners would give it a try. We soon found ourselves delivering bags across the area, from North Devon to the Quantock Hills. We’ve had great feedback from gardeners and, importantly, significant repeat orders already.”

The Westcotts are evolving a preparation and screening process that is resulting in a dark, friable, easy to handle compost that keen gardeners describe as ‘black gold’. Anne Lawton from Minehead said, “It’s the most fabulous black crumbly compost ever. Highly recommended and it’s supporting Exmoor ponies, who are the producers of this wonderful stuff.”

Since June, over 1,000 bags of the compost have been sold and the Westcotts are hopeful that their new Exmoor Compost venture will develop to help maintain the Exmoor Pony Project for the long term. 

“It’s rather lovely that the ponies themselves are providing the means to contribute to their own care. This year is all about survival and these ponies are certainly survivors – many of them would not be here without this project. They’re already benefiting from the compost sales and we’ve been able to buy a paddock sweeper to keep their grazing areas clean – as well as to more efficiently collect manure for future compost.” 

While the couple have sourced and even built some of the equipment and machinery needed to process the compost, some big items remain to be purchased. 

“We’re very fortunate that the Exmoor National Park Authority is awarding Exmoor Compost a £2,500 grant from the Partnership Fund to help us acquire some vital equipment over the next few months. This includes a bag sealer and compost turner. At the moment we’re still bagging, writing out and tying the bags by hand. The grant is a great help at a critical time.

“We’re excited to be farming in this way to help safeguard the endangered Exmoor pony breed and also provide an important, sustainable local resource for gardeners and growers across the area. It’s good to be doing our bit for the environment and we appreciate everyone who is helping us to turn a Covid nightmare into something positive.”

Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager at Exmoor National Park Authority, said, “We are pleased to be able to support this innovative idea to not only support the work of the Exmoor Pony Project but also to recognise the enterprising nature of many organisations across Exmoor. We initially gave a grant to the project from our Covid-19 Response Fund and have now awarded this Partnership Fund grant in a bid to sustain the  Exmoor Pony Project into the longer term. Our Partnership Fund this year is prioritising applications from not-for-profit groups for project ideas that can help to look after the National Park, engage  people with its special qualities and help with the area’s recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. We wish the Exmoor Pony Project and Exmoor Compost scheme well in the future.”

More information can be found at 

Exmoor Hill Farming Network cake sales raise over £1,200 for Macmillan!

The Exmoor Hill Farming Network is an independent, 100% farmer-led organisation which operates as a Community Interest Company (CIC).

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has had a fundamental impact on the Network’s activities, many of which have come to a halt. However, the Network has remained open, based remotely and available to members as a source of trusted information and – at the forefront –responding to the needs of the farming community here on Exmoor and in the Greater Exmoor area.

As regular readers of Exmoor Magazine will know, one of the Network’s Peer Support Groups which tackles rural isolation and mental health has continued throughout this pandemic and has met fortnightly via zoom since April. The Exmoor Women in Farming Group meet from the comfort of their own homes, engaging with over 40 individuals to date. The meetings have ranged from women’s health talks, to guest speakers from other rural parts of the UK talking about their farming opportunities and challenges and it is generally an opportunity for members to talk about their experiences too.

Network Office Katherine Williams, says, “Earlier this autumn it was suggested to support Macmillan Cancer Support as we had held a very successful coffee morning last September. After a discussion ensuring Covid measures could be observed, it was agreed to hold two cake sales at Blackmoor Gate and Cutcombe Market livestock markets during October by kind permission of Exmoor Farmers. The cake sales were overseen by myself and members of the Women in Farming Group. The cake sales were also accompanied by two prize draw meat hampers. The efforts of our farming communities raised a grand total of £1,204.80 for the charity, which works to provide specialist healthcare, information and financial support to people affected by cancer.

“We wanted to show our support in these unusual circumstances as this charity is close to many of our hearts in one way or another. This year we had to change our direction and ensure whatever we did was Covid secure. Everyone was very generous with their donations and we are exceedingly thankful for the support the farming community gave to this worthy cause’.”

PHOTO (taken before 5 November):  Representatives from Exmoor Women in Farming Group who dedicated their time to assist with the sales. Left to right: Catherine Cowling, Lesley Nicholas and Samantha Lole.

West Country Blacksmiths shortlisted for 2020 GAGA Construction Awards

Exmoor-based bespoke metalwork specialists West Country Blacksmiths have had a project at the Courthouse Mews development in Somerton shortlisted for the 2020 GAGA Construction Awards.

The awards celebrate the design and construction of bespoke metalwork both nationally and internationally. The work of West Country Blacksmiths has been shortlisted alongside projects including The Wave in Bristol, Luton Airport entrance canopy, the Giant Eagle of Triberg, Germany and the new training complex of the Premier league football club Brighton & Hove Albion FC.

The metalwork was produced as part of the development of the former Courthouse and Market Place buildings, which have been tastefully converted and extended to provide eight apartments and a two-bedroom house and dedicated Art Care Education (ACE arts) space in the heart of Somerton. The metalwork was bespoke designed and made to complete this development and included a fully automated gate with decorative archway, over 53 metres of wall-top railings, six Juliette balconies, handrails, balcony railings and a bench.

Each piece of handcrafted metalwork is galvanised with a unique acid etch finish to offer long-term, low-maintenance protection.

The blacksmiths used a range of skills and procedures to produce the metalwork include laser scanning and Cad designing, CNC profiling, forge work and highly accurate quality fabrication.

The concept for the metalwork was the brainchild of Frank Martin (Trustee and founder of ACE arts), who said, “Finding creative partners who are able to deliver on my personal inspiration is a rare talent, which West Country Blacksmiths have. As Creative Director my design brief was inspired by through mirror images, and it has become a reality in a medium I am not usually associated with. Everyone at Courthouse Mews is delighted with West Country Blacksmiths’ work, a unique and stunning finish to the development that has helped to  Somerton become “one of the most creative, contemporary and forward-thinking towns in Somerset.”

The award has now been running for 26 years, with previous winners including The Eden Project in Cornwall and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester.

This is the second successive nomination for these awards for the craftsmen of West Country Blacksmiths – after having two bespoke projects shortlisted from six projects for the 2019 design and detail award. Sadly, they missing out on the award that time, which was given to dePaor for the Pálás Cinema in Galway. However, 2019 was still a successful year for the blacksmiths who won the  highly acclaimed Staircase of the Year Award at the Architects’ Journal  for a bespoke staircase project completed for a property in the nature reserve of Sartfell Mountain on the Isle of Man in partnership with Foster Lomas Architects.

West Country Blacksmiths company director Kieren Roberts said, “We are very grateful of the recognition of our work. We are privileged to have an incredibly talented team and together we work extremely hard to produce metalwork to the very best standard regardless of the size and type of project. We thank everyone at the Courthouse Mews development; they were a privilege to work with and we are excited by our future opportunities. As a small company this type of recognition among some of the country’s biggest construction projects is unbelievable. The support we get from the local community is amazing and our focus is to serve the community of Somerset, producing the very best possible metalwork service.”

West Country Blacksmiths are based at the National Trust forge in Allerford on the edge of Exmoor. They produce bespoke metalwork locally and nationally, and their work can be seen in prestigious locations such as Kensington Palace. The team also continue to offer a traditional ‘blacksmiths shop’ whereby they repair and restore items for the local community.