Category Archives: Exmoor Society News


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 programme

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

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

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

PHOTO: by David J. Rowlatt


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO: A linhay at Huish Barton, 1977.


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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO: Culbone Church ©Jenny Gibson 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Tom’s website is

 Photot: courtesy of Thomas Lile


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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO: 2015 Pinnacle Award winner Matthew Sharpe.


Once again, the popular Alfred Vowles Photographic Competition, organised every two years by the Exmoor Society, has celebrated the skill of amateur photographers in capturing scenes that convey the essence of Exmoor. The judges were delighted by the variety and large number of entries in each of the three categories: Landscape, Wildlife and Heritage.

Tickle My ChinThe overall winner of the coveted trophy, donated by Alfred Vowles’ family, is Keith W. Hann with an amusing photograph in the Wildlife category ‘Please tickle my chin’, showing an Exmoor pony scratching its jaw on a fingerpost. It is a quintessentially Exmoor scene. The judges were impressed by the excellent composition and the unusual pose, which showed Mr Hann’s empathy with the pony. They commented: ‘The photographer must have been very patient for the animal to be so relaxed.’

Oare Church[1]In the Landscape category, the winner is Madeline Taylor for ‘Oare church in the snow’, a tranquil, well-composed scene drawing the eye into a timeless image.


Conygar TowerThe Heritage category winner is Jenny Gibson for her ‘Conygar Tower, Dunster’, an excellently observed view where light and shade are most effectively used. Highly commended are Madeline Taylor’s view ‘Exmoor in winter’ (Landscape); Roger Parsons’ ‘Stag taken between Dunkery Beacon and Cloutsham’ (Wildlife); and Jenny Gibson’s ‘Tom Lock of Hawkridge, 2015’ (Heritage).

The judges appreciated the high standard of the entries and the thought and effort that all the photographers had put into producing such a wide range of images in both colour and black and white. A display of the photographs can be seen at The Exmoor Society headquarters, 34 High Street, Dulverton between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.

Alfred Vowles was a well-known photographer who from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1940s, devoted his life to recording the scenery, life and people of Exmoor. His early work is said by experts to have influenced the direction of photography not only as an important record of the time but also as an art form in its own right. He is regarded as synonymous with the imagery of Exmoor as R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone is to its literature.

PHOTO at top of page: Left to right: Madeline Taylor, Roger Parsons, Keith Hann, Sir Antony Acland, Jenny Gibson, Barry Hitchcox, Caroline Tonson-Rye, Terry Downe.


West Buckland pupils did exceptionally well in this year’s Lucy Perry Literary Competition, taking a clean sweep in the 12-14 years’ category and achieving first and third in the 8-11 years’ category.

8-11 (2)
8-11 years category winner Hugh Kilvington and Mia Sharmon, who came third in the same age group.

The annual competition is organised by The Exmoor Society and offers literary awards for a piece of poetry or prose inspired by Exmoor – its landscape, faun, flora or cultural heritage and people’s enjoyment of it.

In the 12-14 years section, Eleanor Voce came first, with Rebecca Hassall second and James Wilson achieving third.

In the 8-11 years category, Hugh Kilvington came first, with Mia Sharmon third.

This year, the competition received a staggering 227 entries from schools on and around Exmoor. On awarding the prizes, the independent judges said, “Congratulations, and thanks, to teachers and pupils for such a remarkable response! We were set a challenging task and the predominance of winners from only two schools is entirely coincidental and unrelated to the number of entries received from each school.”

The winning entries will be available to read on the Exmoor Society website shortly.

Photo, top: Left to right: Rebecca Hassall, who came second in the 12-14 years category, Eleanor Voce, who came first and James Wilson.


From now until mid March the Exmoor Society will be displaying material relating to Lorna Doone including several editions of the book, maps of ‘Lorna Doone Country’, pamphlets telling the ‘real’ story of the Doones and many articles in the Exmoor Review.

Published in 1869, after several rejections, the book did not initially sell well.  Of the original 500 print run, around half were remaindered.  The publisher tried again with a smaller, cheaper edition.  At around this time, Queen Victoria’s daughter Louisa became engaged to the Marquis of Lorne.  A journalist reviewing the book mistakenly argued that Lorna Doone was a history of the Marquis’s ancestors and sales took off.

Thus began the confusion between what is real in Lorna Doone and what isn’t, partly fuelled by Blackmore’s vivid descriptions of Exmoor which made the tale seem so real.  Blackmore attended Blundell’s School in Tiverton, had many relatives on Exmoor and spent much of his childhood there.  Parts of the book were written whilst he was staying in Dulverton and Withypool and this knowledge of the moor, combined with his gift for description, make Exmoor into another character in the book.  However, it seems likely that Doone Valley was a composite of different combes around Badgworthy.  To confuse matters more, there are some ruins in Badgworthy, probably medieval longhouses of about the twelfth century, which may have been used by a group of outlaws to hide out during the English Civil War.  Thus when looking for ‘Doone Valley’ the seeker should distinguish between the valley in the book, and the valley where there might have been real outlaws.

Interest in the novel was so intense that there are paddle steamers and locomotive engines named after its heroine. The first Lorna Doone paddle steamer was built in 1891 and was used on south coast routes.  Requisitioned in both world wars, in April 1941 the Lorna Doone fired on Nazi war planes, bringing down two whilst managing to escape severe damage herself.  More prosaically, the brand has spread on Exmoor, from tea rooms to oyster spoons.

Richard Doddridge Blackmore, the novel’s author, was a quiet man, unprepared for its success and convinced that, of the fourteen books he wrote, it was not his best.  He was a market gardener, based in south-west London.  Writing was his way of funding a business that he usually ran at a loss.  His own life had its share of intrigue as, at the age of 51, his older brother Henry fell in love with Elizabeth Maggs, a 23-year-old whose father was a chemist.  Henry willed his entire estate of £20,000 to the Maggs family before dying in mysterious circumstances in June 1875.  Blackmore accused the chemist of murder but this was unproven and he had to settle out of court after being accused of libel.

These and many other stories can be found in the Exmoor Society’s library and archives.  It has been almost 150 years since the publication of Lorna Doone but, despite its initial lack of success, it is still in print.  Exmoor is vital to the telling of the story, its geographical isolation and apparent wildness giving life to the tales of romance and outlaws.  Although the Doones exploit the landscape in order to live beyond the pale, the moor eventually wins by swallowing them up.

Society news: The Society’s walks programme starts on Friday 26th February 2016 with a walk through ‘Snowdrop Valley in Full Bloom’. The annual Spring Conference, ‘Exmoor’s Future Landscapes’, including the importance of the moorlands, will be held on 22 April 2016.   This is a joint event between Exmoor National Park Authority and The Exmoor Society and full details can be found on the website