Friday, 5 August 2016

Fun and games at an Exmoor village fête

Scarecrows guarding the signpost (photo by Debi Jones)
Every village on Exmoor does something to celebrate summer, the season of fairs and festivals. On the first Saturday in August – this weekend, in fact - is the Wheddon Cross and Cutcombe fête and dog show, which takes place on the village playing fields just a short walk from Exmoor House.
A 'Mrs Mopp' scarecrow takes a break (photo by Debi Jones)
In the good old English tradition, a fête wouldn't be a fête without at least some of the following: china smashing, splat the rat, barbeque, tombola, Pimm's tent, fortune-telling and stalls selling books, plants and bric à brac. Most, if not all, of these are generally here, often with a few extra surprises too. Buy a ticket for the grand draw and you could win any of a wonderful array of prizes – one of which is dinner for two at Exmoor House.

We really enjoy looking at all the competition entries: there is always some fab baking (Frank won the best-in-show cup one year; the judges loved his goat's cheese flan), as well as great photos, very inventive crafts and of course luscious home-grown produce. Sometimes the competitions include a prize for the best scarecrow. No scarecrows this year, but I couldn't resist including a couple of pictures of some from a year or so ago.


Afternoon teas (not to be missed) are served at the village hall. After prizes have been presented, the fruit, vegetables, cakes – and so on – from the competitions are auctioned to raise money for village good causes. The auctioneer from the sheep and cattle market down the road does the honours and the pace is fast and furious. Snooze and you lose, as they say. Bidding is often fiercest, and prices highest, when it's time for the whortleberries to be sold (you may know these by one of their other names: bilberries, whinberries, blaeberries...).

If you're in the area, do come along and join in. You'll be made very welcome.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Exmoor's variety, part 2: Plantlife

Because Exmoor has such a range of terrains (more in a later blog!) it has a big range of plantlife too. I'm going to concentrate here on some of my favourites, and haven't included trees because I'm also going to focus on them another time.
Daffodils in Stowey Wood near Wheddon Cross
Early in the year the snowdrops in Snowdrop Valley - where else? - show that the land is starting to wake up after winter. Slightly later signs of spring are daffodils, primroses, alexanders, wild garlic, bluebells. 
Gorse, with its sunny flowers and coconutty scent, can be in bloom at any time of year ('whenever kissing's in season' as the old saying goes) but is often at its best in late spring. Exmoor ponies love to nibble the flowers and stems.
Heather on Dunkery Hill
Summer brings out the bell heather and ling on the high moors, which are home to luscious whortleberries as well; also known as bilberries, if you're a northerner like me. And, following on from the foxgloves, rosebay willowherb is everywhere. On riverbanks I love to see meadowsweet, also – an invasive import, but so pretty – monbretia.
Gorse in bloom by the Porlock toll road
By the coast you'll see, at various times of the year, sea purslane, wild fennel, teasels, evening primroses, mallows...
And I'll just briefly mention marsh plants, grasses and sedges, ferns, lichens – the latter a telltale sign of Exmoor's unpolluted air – and fungi including brightly coloured waxcaps.

All in all, Exmoor is a botanist's paradise!

Friday, 26 February 2016

Teacakes at Wheddon Cross

Johnny Kingdom and David Parker visited our February pop-up tearoom the other year, and tried one of our most popular menu items: our home-made teacakes.
They had just visited Snowdrop Valley, while filming the TV series Johnny Kingdom's Wild Exmoor. The book of the same name, by David Parker and with reflections on Exmoor from Johnny Kingdom, was published in 2015 by Halsgrove.
On page 49, David says of our tearoom: '...the food, all home-baked... is fantastic. I'm partial to a toasted teacake in the morning, Frank's home-made ones put the bought variety into some sort of perspective'.
For an affectionate and individual perspective on Exmoor through the seasons, take a look at the book. You will also find our special teacakes recipe in there, but here it is now for you.
Ingredients (makes approximately 12 teacakes)
200g mixed dried fruit
1kg strong white flour
1 tsp salt
100g butter
100g sugar
500 ml milk
5g yeast
1 tsp sweet mixed spices

Rub the butter and flour together in a large mixing bowl until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Warm the milk to blood temperature and add the yeast, then add the milk and yeast, as well as the mixed spice, sugar and salt, to the flour and butter mix. Stir it all together and knead, then add the mixed fruit and work it into the dough. Cover the bowl lightly with clingfilm, set it in a warm place and allow the dough to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size. Then divide into 150g pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Put these on a baking tray which you have greased and lined with baking parchment or silicon sheet. Let the doughballs rise for approximately another hour, then bake at 200C for fifteen to twenty minutes.
Enjoy the teacakes the traditional way: toasted, with plenty of butter. Or for something different and also rather delicious, try them untoasted, with clotted cream and jam.
If you'd rather have teacakes made for you, then do come and visit!




Monday, 8 February 2016

Snowdrops, steam trains and snacks


Combining a ride on a steam train with a visit to Exmoor’s beautiful Snowdrop Valley sounds like just the  ticket! This year’s Snowdrops and Steam days out on the West Somerset Railway are on February 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th.
  
The steam trains depart from Bishops Lydeard at 10.25 or Minehead at 10.15. You get off at Williton Station to join the special coach service to Wheddon Cross, arriving there around midday. To get to the valley itself, you can either walk (allow about 1 ½ to 2 hours; the paths are steep and can be very muddy) or travel on the snowdrop bus.

Your coach back to Williton leaves Wheddon Cross about 15.00, to catch the 16.45 trains to Bishops Lydeard and Minehead. Visit WSR for more information, prices and booking details (as I write this, some of the Snowdrops and Steam dates are selling very fast).


While you’re in Wheddon Cross, do call in to Exmoor House for some hot soup, home-made teacakes, a cream tea or a ploughman’s lunch…

And to see just why Snowdrop Valley is so special, take a look at these photos

On the Wheddon Cross village website you’ll find details of various walks to Snowdrop Valley; here are some examples.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Snowdrop Valley 2016 and our pop-up tea room


The official dates for Exmoor’s famous Snowdrop Valley this year are 30th January to 28th February. During this time the road to the valley is closed, but you can walk down to see the snowdrops via various routes from Wheddon Cross (the public footpaths are of course open all year round and it is always a nice walk, though you need to be reasonably fit as the way is steep). 


The snowdrops on 24th January - photo by Michael Edwards
 If you don’t want to walk, a park and ride bus service runs between Wheddon Cross and Snowdrop valley each day from 6th to 21st February. For more details, including the bus timetable, walking route maps, the Snowdrop Valley brochure and information about special arrangements for people who have disabilities, visit the  
Wheddon Cross village website


At Exmoor House guest house we are opening our annual pop-up tea room from 30th January until 28th February inclusive. Opening hours are generally from 11am until 3pm, although if we don’t have many dinners to do for our staying guests (our bed and breakfast breaks with dinner are very popular) then we may stay open a little longer in the afternoon.

Everything is made here by Frank the chef, for example bread, teacakes, cakes, scones, jams & pickles….Some of our tearoom specialities are soup, sandwiches, ploughman’s lunches - and not forgetting Somerset cream teas (including savoury cream teas for those who don’t have a sweet tooth).

Our dining room only holds about 14 people, so if you have a particular date in mind when you’d like to come for lunch, we’d advise you to book. Call Rosi & Frank on 01643 841432.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Exmoor's variety, part 1: Water


Exmoor National Park is not only incredibly beautiful, but incredibly varied. Some people hear the word ‘moor’ and think ‘bleak’ – but I want to show you that on Exmoor this is very far from the full story.


I’d intended to make this post about scenery and landscape in general, but this is such a huge subject that it needs breaking down into several episodes. So this time I’m going to concentrate on one theme – water. Who doesn’t love picnicking by a river, or relaxing by the sea?
 
 The river Barle at Withypool


 The moorland is criss-crossed by many small rivers, e.g. the Barle...







...and there are areas of marshland, rich in wildlife.
Porlock Marsh
Wimbleball Lake at dusk


We’ve a lake (a man-made reservoir but none the less attractive for that) at Wimbleball.








And Exmoor National Park has an amazing coastline, from Minehead
View from the Valley of Rocks, Lynton
to Porlock, from Lynmouth to Heddon’s Mouth and many places in between. Beaches, high and rugged cliffs, dramatic ravines, charming harbour towns…
 

Walking to Heddon's Mouth
There are plenty of water-based activities to choose from on Exmoor, including coasteering, kayaking, fishing - and of course coastal walking or cycling.





Find some ideas at Visit Exmoor

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The mysterious Culbone Stone


Last Saturday the owners of an area of wild woodland high on Exmoor opened up part of their land so that people could visit the Culbone Stone, a mysterious remnant of the moor’s ancient past. 

The Culbone Stone with its inscription

Once the Culbone Stone may have formed part of an ancient line of standing stones dating from about 3,000 years ago; some of these are still in place in the surrounding woods. 

A cross within a wheel or circle has been cut into the stone. Who carved it, and when? 
 
Although a ‘wheeled cross’ is a well-known Christian symbol, crosses within circles have been used as symbols since well before Jesus’ time. 
 
Also, one arm of the cross, which extends outside the wheel, seems to have been added after the rest of the carving (possibly as a parish boundary marker). So, who knows…?


Twisty trees in the woods surrounding the Culbone Stone
Gnarled and twisted trees, dense undergrowth and winding paths lend an atmosphere of mystery to the woods themselves. 

The land was once owned by Ada Lovelace (check her out on Wikipedia) and her husband.   

Some of the trees that they planted there as part of a grand vision for the estate did not do well in our moorland climate, but they linger on, like ghosts, adding to the slight spookiness of the place.