Category Archives: For children & families

The Exmoor Curriculum at Dulverton Middle School

When I think back to my school days, the rare outings and residential weekends away we enjoyed imprinted more on my memory than any spell in the classroom I can think of.  I still recall finite details about a school camp on the moor some 20-odd years ago. Our teacher could name the constellations we spotted in the sky during our evening ramble. Inspired, I went straight home and learned them all. I doubt any representation in a book would have propelled me to do the same.

Despite an abundance of quality research extolling the benefits to children of outdoor and community-based learning, the Commons Schools Select Committee has reported a significant national decline in outdoor education. The situation today is that many schoolchildren are lucky to get out of the classroom just once a term. In light of this, the happenings at Dulverton Middle School for the past 11 years have been both inspiring and unusual. Here the children routinely learn out of the classroom in a variety of settings, thanks to the school’s unique ‘Exmoor Curriculum’.

Taught one afternoon a week and running alongside the National Curriculum, the Exmoor Curriculum is a programme of outdoor and environmental educational activities with a local twist. The specific emphasis is on embracing the immediate surroundings of Exmoor, its environment and community. It has been a manifest success. Ofsted gave it special praise, stating that it makes “a significant contribution to the personal development of pupils and provides opportunities for them to understand and use their immediate locality”. No other state school in the country offers a similar programme.

So how and why did this tiny middle school in West Somerset blaze such an innovative trail? Overall it has been the achievement of a number of passionate and pro-active individuals and groups, but a leading share of the credit must go to former head Steve Ford. Steve arrived at Dulverton in the late nineties and retired last year. Happily, I was put in touch with him by his long-time colleague and current Dulverton deputy head, Clive Goulty. The two both taught at Danesfield School in Williton in the 1980s, where they ran well-attended weekend camping clubs. They shared a belief that outdoor and practical experiences were indispensable to education.

Even in retirement, Steve is evidently still passionate about the Exmoor Curriculum. “What drove the idea?”, I asked him. “A number of beliefs came together,” he explained. “Children should know about where they come from and understand their environment. Also, the existing curriculum was very language and literacy based.” Steve felt that some young people had abilities in different areas which were not being catered for. He also knew that in order for children to apply knowledge to real life, it helps to give them a real-life learning experience, preferably within the surroundings of their own community, to make the lesson relevant. With Exmoor on the doorstep, it seemed that new learning opportunities were boundless. Steve was also aware that, as the smallest middle school in Somerset, Dulverton was vulnerable. “So I wanted school to be too good to miss,” he declared.

Building the  roundhouse and Allan Dyer with jubilant  pupils on its completion. Courtesy ENPASteve immediately looked to Clive to start developing the new curriculum. Another former colleague and outdoor education expert, Allan Dyer, was also enlisted. By the time the Exmoor Curriculum was being taught Allan had retired but – excited by the concept – he came out of retirement to help develop and teach on the course. The school governors, having tremendous faith in Steve, enthusiastically supported the proposals.  Exmoor National Park Authority was keen to offer its educational resources and helped establish a programme of activities. The key figure responsible for this task was the National Park

Authority’s Education Manager, Dave Gurnett. Dave was clearly eager to talk about the Exmoor Curriculum when I visited him at a sunny Exmoor House HQ in Dulverton. Dave is a former teacher turned National Park Ranger with cheerful energy and bona fide enthusiasm for outdoor education. “It was easy to find them places to go and things to do,” he told me. “We looked at where we could show them the practical implementation of conservation.” I asked him if he felt it would be within the scope of other schools to take up the lead and offer their own similar programmes.

Dave fervently believes this to be true; he commends the efforts of other Somerset schools he works with and offers succinctly: “People make things happen, you get the right combination of people and anything’s possible.”

‘Anything’s possible’ seems to be the theme. When health and safety fears meant schools up and down the country were shying away from school trips, Dulverton Middle School was busy obtaining its own Adventure Activities Licence. Now the pupils are engaged each week in a diverse range of activities encompassing conservation, water sports, first aid, community, local industry and local history. One year group even built a traditional roundhouse in the school grounds. “I took the children to an Iron-Age hillfort and they were thoroughly disappointed,” recalls Clive. “There wasn’t much there. No turrets!” he chuckled.

canoeing at Wimbleball as part of the Exmoor CurriculumHe asked them to try and imagine how the buildings might have looked and then explained how roundhouses were built, which prompted a boy to ask: “Can we build one then?” So they did. A 13ft roundhouse was erected over half a term, using locally-supplied saplings and traditional tools. That’s history, exercise, teamwork and woodcraft all rolled into one enjoyable, priceless, educational experience. No other state school in the country offers a similar programme.

By year 8, the various skills the children gain over the preceding four years are brought together and, dependent on their overall performance, they may graduate as ‘Junior Rangers’. With this accolade comes the right to wear a distinctive black Junior Ranger uniform to school. The Exmoor Society funds the ‘graduation’. The ongoing support which the school receives from the Exmoor Society cannot be underestimated.

Committed sponsors from the outset, the Society have announced in their spring newsletter that they will award £2,000 this year to help further develop the curriculum, acknowledging its role in promoting ‘important life skills and deep understanding of the Exmoor environment’.

There are more exciting times ahead too. Thanks to a grant from Exmoor National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund, year 7 and 8 pupils will have the opportunity to gain a Vocational Related Qualification (VRQ) award in Land and Environment. Intended for those aged 14 and over, VRQs are not usually offered to middle school pupils. They know it can work, having already piloted a partial VRQ award in partnership with Somerset Rural Youth Project in 2008 – all the children passed.

Junior Ranger graduation with (left to right, front) Steve Ford, Dave Gurnett,  Clive Goulty and Allan Dyer.  The timetable is set. In the late-March week when I visited, year 5 were taking cycling proficiency training, year 6 were obtaining St John’s Ambulance Lifesaver Awards, year 7 were preparing tourism guide packs of the local area and year 8 were planning and mapping their own walk from Dulverton to Brushford and back again. Clive remains a fountain of ongoing ideas. He would like to see an equestrian element introduced and perhaps more local history. Current head Jeremy Weedon is exuberant about the Exmoor Curriculum, attendance targets are being exceeded and the children really do seem to want to come to school. He is also delighted to be gaining the VRQ accreditation. Clearly the reins are in keen hands. I left Dulverton feeling optimistic for their future and hopeful that their model will inspire others. Anything’s possible… this little school could be making big things happen for some time to come.

Awakening the magic of Exmoor in young people

Judges at this year’s Exmoor Society Literary Competition praised the exceptionally high standard and from a huge entry of poems received, at the Society’s recent Spring Conference, Sir Antony Acland presented the prize winners with their awards. First prize in the senior category went to Edward Taylor, 13 years, from Stoke Rivers and a pupil at West Buckland School, and first prize in the junior category went to Hattie Harley, 10 years, from Yeo Mill, West Anstey and a pupil at North Molton Primary School for her poem entitled “Life on Exmoor”.

The Exmoor Society is delighted to announce that this Award, held each year for children writing about Exmoor, has a new sponsor. The award will now be known as the “Lucy Perry Literary Award” in memory of Lucy Perry who died last year. Her family felt it most appropriate that the bequest to the Society is in the form of a legacy to fund the award, so that the Society can continue with this way of awakening the magic of Exmoor in young people.

This annual competition is open to young people between the ages of 8 and 14 years and the Society offers literary awards for a piece of poetry or prose inspired by Exmoor – its landscape, its wildlife and cultural heritage and people’s enjoyment of it. Closing date for this year’s competition is 31 December 2011 and entries to be sent to: The Exmoor Society, Parish Rooms, Dulverton, Som TA22 9DP.

The Society continues to financially support the Exmoor Curriculum at Dulverton Middle School which gives local children the opportunity to learn about Exmoor and allows them to participate in a wide variety of activities.

The Society now wishes to extend the curriculum to other schools in the area and has set up an Education Fund for this purpose. It is the Society’s intention to help young people to know more about Exmoor and to understand how it copes with the many pressures from modern living. For more detail and to find out how to help please contact the Society – info@exmoorsociety.com.

Lucy Perry Literary Award 2010 Senior Group – 1st place

The water gargles and giggles
As it makes its way down the
delicate shallows of the Barle spring
The light shines off it like a halo.
A river is born.

It grows and learns, becomes wiser
and wider, picking up pieces of the sad modern world. It
Deepens and darkens gets murkier
and mysterious with the sad truth of the world;

It harbours secrets and lies but lets no one
know for it would be too sad. On the top it
is a shining and beautiful it has to be it is a phenomenon of
nature.

It is a single blue thread woven into the green
quilt of Exmoor It reaches barriers and
troubles but finds the solution and carries on
It reaches a dead end but won’t stop, it carries
on down with a roar and a crash.

Now it’s in its prime racing faster and faster the wonder of
Exmoor. Then it meets its goal. The sea, perhaps the end of
the beginning or maybe the beginning of the end. We shall
never know

Edward Taylor
Aged 13 years
West Buckland School

Lucy Perry Literary Award 2010 Junior Group – 1st place

Life on Exmoor

Smooth little streams made from last night’s rain
Thin winding paths, puddle here and there
Small tummy button toadstools, grouped in patches
Curving hills sloping in the distance making silhouettes against the cloudy sky

Thick long hedges with tangled twigs
Golden, orange, brown leaves scattered all over the ground
Dark chestnut ponies with deep brown manes
Galloping on the muddy ground

Finger pricking gorse bushes protecting the dainty yellow flowers
Big groups of rusty brown bracken, crunching under people’s feet
A soft breeze brushing the hay coloured grass
In the distance, you see clumps of towering beech trees with bright orange leaves, slowly becoming bare

Hattie Harley
Aged 10 years
North Molton Primary School

North Molton Friday Club Hits 40

North Molton may only be a village but it is fortunate enough to have both a thriving Friday Club (for 7 – 11 year olds) and a Youth Club (for 11 – 16 olds) and the weekend before last ( 14 – 15 May) there was a packed programme of events to celebrate the Friday Club’s 40th anniversary.

The Friday Club, which is based in the village’s Methodist chapel, was started in 1971 by Sister Pam LePoidevin, May Bray, Greta Bray and her daughter Rosemary Bray (now Courteney). Today, the club meets fortnightly, on a Friday.

The weekend’s events began at 10.00 – 12.00 on Saturday with an exhibition of photos and memorabilia illustrating the Friday Club’s history, videos of various outings and events, followed by coffee and refreshments. Many people attended to exclaim over the photos and to point in amazement at themselves or friends and family in much younger days!

It was notable that many of those who came along to relive happy memories were Friday Club members in the archive photographs. Now adults themselves, they in turn brought their own children to the event. And of course many of these now attend the current Friday Club. In fact at least one local family, The Bendles, can claim three generations of attendees!

In the afternoon the festivities moved to a free event held North Molton’s Sports Club, which started at 3.00 and went on to a family party until 9.00 at night. In the afternoon there were races, activities, a bouncy castle and a barbeque. This was followed at 6.00 with live music from The Lucy Lastic Band. This caused great fun and hilarity as old and young joined in and had a go at line dancing!

Finally, rounding off the weekend on Sunday morning there was a service at the Methodist chapel lead by Sister Pam – who had travelled from her home in Guernsey – and included contributions from past and present Friday Club leaders and members. This was rounded off by Sister Pam cutting the fabulous cake, which featured the club’s motto of ‘Treat Others as You Would Like to be Treated’. Afterwards everyone was invited to stay and share lunch.

Rosemary Courtney now leads the Friday Club. Rosemary says:

“We have been delighted in the support from past and present children and helpers over the last two days. The weather held for us and so the social event at The Sports Club went brilliantly! The evening was a fun event and the dancing seemed to be enjoyed by everyone, as the children got parent and friends involved. I would particularly like to thank all those who have put in many hours to make this weekend so special, especially my cousin Janet Jerrett, who’s mum May Bray was one of the original founders 40 year ago ”.

Exmoor Community Youth Club at Exford

by Sandy Francis

It  was a cold, dark, late-winter evening on top of Exmoor. Mist would certainly have descended if only it weren’t blowing a Hooley. The ground would have been ice-hard under foot if only it hadn’t been pouring with rain all week and the silhouettes of bare, blackened trees might have looked mysterious, even magical if only one could look up and see them without being stung in the eyeballs by Jack Frost.

As I drove my little car to Exford a few freezing Fridays ago with my heater on full blast and my windscreen wipers barely managing to keep up with the lashing sleet, all I could think about was staying in, snuggling under the duvet and watching television. Driving up into the hills to a colder, damper, more miserable climate seemed completely insane.

As I turned into the ‘track by the church’ crossly muttering under my breath that this surely could not be right, I spied a welcoming light in the middle distance. The glimmer of hope brought me to a place where the narrow track widened into almost a clearing with a few parked cars and a random scattering of small people all headed in the same direction. This was right. I had reached my destination and the event was really happening, at night, in the rain, the dark and the cold. Exmoor Community Youth Club had not been cancelled due to lack of interest as the bah-humbug monster inside me had considered. In fact, it was buzzing with activity.

I was instantly impressed, first by the number of children who were there (about 24 and it had only just turned 6pm – more came later) and then by the number of adults with rolled-up sleeves, smiles and energy. I instantly felt like a wimp. These people were flying in the face of the January blues, not longing to hibernate but determinedly defying nature and making sure that the young people on Exmoor have something to do, even, or especially, on harsh weather evenings.

around the campfire on Summer Camp at Withycombe FarmThe hut was warm, bright, light and full of enthusiastic chattering and laughing. It is the renovated cricket pavilion, semi-abandoned and very run down until five years ago when Exford’s former rector Keith Powell opened it to the young people of the village. It needed a lot of work by a band of dedicated volunteers who transformed it into a cheerful, comfortable meeting place with a long community room, a quiet corner and a separate kitchen and crafts room. There is a veranda out front, an addition to the hut that I could imagine being quite lovely in the summer but also essential in rainier seasons as a place to discard welly boots and wet coats without getting soaked. Beyond the veranda is a huge flat field, perfect for sports, games, picnics, etc.

One of the club’s five trustees, Cathy Nicholls, greeted me at the door, made coffee and introduced chairman and original trustee Robin Ashburner who had shared the vision of Keith Powell and was able to enlist the help of business and community contacts to get the club off the ground. Last summer a new group of trustees changed the name from Exford Youth Club to Exmoor Community Youth Club, or ECYC, to make the club inclusive to all children in and around the moor.

We sat on the sofa in the quiet corner and chatted about society and young people, about the fact that most Exmoor villages don’t have a youth club, that ECYC is a charity that receives no subsidies, relying on donations, grants and fundraising to keep going.

Robin is passionate about the youth club. He quoted the African proverb ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ and instantly reminded me of the comfort I used to feel knowing that every person in Roadwater and Withycombe, where I raised my own children, knew them, looked out for them and told me if they were ever up to no good! It was helpful to have so many other eyes watching over my family.

A mouse suddenly appeared from behind a beanbag and a group of children enlisted Robin’s help to capture it, offering a timely interruption; I could have talked to Robin for hours but was keen to meet the rest of the team and their charges. The noise level increased somewhat as everyone became involved in activities. There were boys and girls across the 6-16 age range playing pool and table football, making clay models and fashioning things out of beads.

Modelling clay in the craft roomI talked to the older cohort, a group of 15-year-olds, Mark from Exford and his two friends George and Dan from Brompton Regis. Dan was helping at the club to fulfil the community part of the Duke of Edinburgh Silver award. He said he comes anyway because it’s something to do and he gets to see his friends. George and Mark gave similar reasons for attending. They all agreed that the club provides an opportunity to socialise and see everyone outside school. They described an exciting new project to renovate the derelict hut next door (the even older Exford cricket pavilion), providing extra space and the opportunity to add a music section to the youth club.

We went out into the weather to have a look at the progress, armed with torches and adult supervision in the shape of parent and helper Bernard Webber, a talented builder who organised and carried out the majority of the work on the new venture. Significant amounts of time and effort have been spent and the place is all but finished. Bernard, modest about his own efforts, told me that the current rector, David Weir, had spent six hours that day helping to lay a new roof and that the money had come after 13-year-old member Molly Davidson applied for a grant from the Youth Opportunity and Youth Capital Fund.

No amount of wheedling would get Bernard to reveal how hard he works for the club, but it was clear that he, and everyone else involved, make up a highly motivated bunch. Back inside, there were hot sausage rolls from the oven and the chance to talk to youth workers Laura Tasker and Alison Bagley who showed photographs of a sunny camping trip organised by the youth club last summer, and a flyer encouraging the club members to have a go at drystone walling. In addition to Summer Camp there are fireworks on Guy Fawkes night, participation in the Night Walk Challenge on the Quantocks (the club’s own Exmoor Hamster Team came first last year as regular readers of this magazine may have seen) and a long list of further activities including rounders, football, cricket, cycling, glass painting, papier mâché, painting, cookery, drumming workshops and barbecues.

Laura and Alison mentioned how the project would not run without parents who at that moment were helping with everything from washing up to supervising table tennis and keeping an eye on the crazy few who had spotted a gap in the rain and gone out to play football. I stood on the veranda for a while and watched them. The field was now lit up well enough to pick out the ball, the goal posts and the players were plastered in mud and laughing. In the background 13-year-old Sami was doing a good job of being the only teenage girl in the place and standing up to the boys.

Georgia from Wheddon Cross was busy finishing her ‘hangy thing’ that she had made from the bead box, while Chantelle from Exford proudly displayed her clay face and two dads had joined their children on the table football. I wanted to play too – and not just table football. I have never felt more boring than I did at that moment. Hibernate? What is wrong with me? These grown-ups were not moaning about the cold and the weather, they were all having a great time whilst doing something that could be more useful than any of us will ever actually know.

We hear sad stories, frequently, about disenfranchised teenagers, neglected children, the ASBO generation and so on. Exford and many other rural communities have their share of social difficulties. To change things, make things better for our young people, and subsequently for all of us, takes people who care; the pro-active who don’t want to hide away under the duvet when the going gets tough but get up instead and get on with it

Exmoor Community Youth Club receives no government funding. It relies on the generosity of clubs, organisations and individuals to keep it going. It wouldn’t exist without its dedicated parents including stalwarts Mike Winzer and Angie Bright or the board of trustees: Sue Hayes, Jenny Acland, Juliet Edwardson, Mike Warner and Cathy. Founders Robin and Keith remain ever enthusiastic and Bernard and David the rector work tirelessly behind the scenes.

Please support this brilliant service by joining the Facebook page and keeping abreast of forthcoming fundraising events. Alternatively, contact trustee Cathy Nicholls on 01643 851430 if you have any ideas or would like to help. I leave the last word to George who, like lots of young people, has a gift for telling it like it is: “The really good thing about coming here is that it turns a boring, rainy night into something good, keeps us out of trouble and gets everyone together and away from the telly.”

Children’s Exmoor Tales

children's exmoor talesTales for children inspired by the moor

by Mark Young

The wonderful contrasting scenery of Exmoor with its changing moods throughout the year has long been a source of inspiration to painters and writers alike. Children’s books have been and continue to be written with Exmoor’s scenery and especially Exmoor’s ponies as the main backdrop to the story. Anyone visiting Exmoor will soon become aware of the Lorna Doone story by R D Blackmore. This fine old saga, originally published in 1869, is perhaps a bit daunting for a young person to read (the current edition weighs in at 700 pages) but visiting Oare and following the legend of John Ridd and Lorna Doone on the moor is a rewarding way to spend a day.

Inevitably many of the books mentioned below are out of print, only obtainable through secondhand bookshops or via the internet, some at steep prices. Happily a few are being reprinted: Katherine Hull and Pamela Whitlock wrote The Far-Distant Oxus when still in their teens (15 and 16 respectively). They sent the handwritten manuscript to Arthur Ransome with a letter suggesting that he might pass it on to his publisher, Jonathan Cape.  The letter is a masterpiece of juvenile optimism and bravado:

Dear Mr Ransome

We enclose a manuscript of a book we have been writing together. We don’t want to bother you with it if you are busy with other things, but we are not quite sure what to do with it and we thought you might help us. If you
cannot be bothered to read it, perhaps you could ask Titty or Roger, as they might like it. We think the Amazons might be rather disdainful. We should like to send it to Jonathan Cape, but if you do not think it is good enough we will think of something else to do with it.
We enclose stamps for return postage, and remain

Yours hopefully
Katherine Hull and Pam Whitlock

Ransome, after reading the whole exciting story of the children who spend their summer holiday on Exmoor, their cover of the far distant oxusadventures by land and water, highly recommended it and the book was published in 1937. Cape reissued The Far-Distant Oxus in 1978 in its original format along with Ransome’s introduction and it has now been reissued in paperback. It is understood that the further two books of Exmoor adventures, Escape to Persia andOxus in Summer, will be reissued over the next couple of years.

Margot Pardoe wrote children’s books from 1936 until the 1960s and one of her heroes, Bunkle, visited Devon and Exmoor in Bunkle Began It and Bunkle Scents a Clue. These fine mystery stories have just been reissued in the same format as the Oxus stories.

The Exmoor Pony has and continues to be a lasting source of inspiration. A W Seaby published Exmoor Lass in 1928. Beautifully illustrated with his own line drawings, the book was reprinted six times before 1946. Now out of print, copies seem to be around at reasonable prices.

Both Lionel Edwards and Cecil Aldin hunted on Exmoor and both illustrated a number of children’s books, most notably some by local author, Eleanor Helme. Helme and Nance Paul introduced Jerry in Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony in 1930. All of her books are out of print but can be found. Her books all had a background of real events and White Winter is a fine portrayal of the winter of 1947 when Exmoor was completely cut off by snow for six weeks or more.

Edwards illustrated another pony book, Exmoor Ben by Pamela Macgregor-Morris, which was first published in 1950. The illustration of Exmoor Ben and his mother beautifully captures the filthy weather of the summer of 2008!

Many people who visit Exmoor yearn to live there but, for sound family reasons, are not able to realise their dream. Tiverton-born Mary de la Mahotière compensated for living in Hampstead with her husband who was a journalist by writing about children’s adventures on Exmoor. Thus the author of The Newspaper Children penned Round-Up on Exmoorpublished in 1961.

Happily there are some Exmoor Pony stories readily available. If you haven’t discovered them yet, look out for Victoria Eveleigh’s trio of stories about Katy, and Trifle, her Exmoor pony. The author lives and farms in North Devon and has published Katy’s Exmoor (2002), Katy’s Exmoor Adventures (2003) and Katy’s Exmoor Friends (2005). A further book set on Lundy is rumoured to be on its way!

A final entry in the Pony Stakes must be Moorland Mousie and Older Mousie, written by Muriel Wace under the pseudonym Golden Gorse. They were illustrated by Lionel Edwards and published in 1929 and 1932 respectively. Both of these lovely books are constantly sought after, have become progressively more expensive and it is hoped that they will, one day, be reprinted.

While the Exmoor Pony has dominated this survey there are also some fine stories about the deer and the dogs who live on the moor. John Fortescue’s classic, The Story of a Red-Deer was first published in 1897 and is quite easy to find. A re-issue by Halsgrove in 2003 is still in print.

G R Acton published Exmoor Rover in 1938 with some good illustrations by C Gifford Ambler. This is an exciting story of a wild dog found on Exmoor and his moorland adventures. Ambler also illustrated a book by Joseph Chipperfield, Storm of Dancerwood(1948).

And, for those who enjoy something a little spooky, a touch of the supernatural, here are two suggestions. Josephine Poole published Billy Buck in 1972, while renowned author Penelope Lively brought out The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy the previous year.

The books listed in this article represent a good cross section of children’s books written with an Exmoor background. It is by no means a complete listing: Eleanor Helme in particular wrote several more books than those highlighted.

As mentioned before, many of these books are out of print but most can be obtained with a little effort. If you live away from the moor, you will need to access through your local bookseller or do your own internet search but mind the prices! If you live on the moor, nag your Mum or your Granny to check the barn, the loft, under the bed: they are there somewhere!

Round-up on exmoor coverExmoor Lass CoverJerry The Story of an Exmoor Pony