Tuesday, 22 November 2011

We love Taunton, Somerset’s county town: things to see, shopping, places to eat

Since we moved to the country, the Big Metropolis for us is Taunton, the capital of Somerset. It’s our favourite place round here when we need to do a large shop or a large variety of shopping; more of shopping later, though, because there’s plenty else to tell. I temped in Taunton for a while when we first moved to Somerset, and during my lunch breaks I discovered some of its secret (and not so secret) places and things to see. Here’s a taster.

Vivary Park is great for a wander, well used but still peaceful, with lots of interesting corners. There are some gorgeous houses backing on to the park, at which I’ve cast many an envious look.

If you only have time to look at one of the churches in Taunton, make it St Mary Magdalene. The churchyard and surrounding streets are also very atmospheric, giving a feeling of what the town must have been like in the days before the car parks were needed.

The River Tone flows though the town (Tone-town, it must’ve been!) and it’s a nice stroll along the pathways at Goodland Gardens and French Weir. As I write this, there’s some renovation work going on by the riverside so not all the paths are accessible.

Through the archway at Castle Bow you’ll find a collection of historic and picturesque buildings. The castle itself contains the beautifully laid out Museum of Somerset, recently opened again after a massive redevelopment.

Shopping! The main retail areas in the town centre are the High Street, East Street, North Street and the adjoining arcades, where there are all the usual chain stores and independent shops too. There’s a good farmers market on the High Street every Thursday. For plenty of interesting individual shops, try the area around Middle Street and the back streets near the bridge, also Bath Place off the High Street.

Food is dear to our hearts, and we generally combine a visit to Taunton with a good lunch. Some of our favourite places to eat include The Sanctuary on Middle Street (their light lunch menu is very good value); Brazz on Castle Bow (part of The Castle Hotel); the Castle Green Inn (on Castle Green, would you believe?); the Flying Aubergine (great name!) by the river; there are many more too.

Find more information about Taunton, and a link to a heritage trail, at http://www.visitsomerset.co.uk/explore-somerset-towns-and-villages/taunton-p500243

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Things to do on & around Exmoor when it's raining

Exmoor is fabulous for walking and cycling, as you know. But, this being England, you may get some rainy days during your stay (or there may be days when you’d rather take it easier but still get out and about). With this in mind, here are some suggestions for other things to do…

There are plenty of interesting towns and villages to mooch around, for example Dulverton, Dunster, Watchet, Porlock and Lynton/Lynmouth.

National Trust properties in the area include Dunster Castle, just a few miles down the road from us; Coleridge Cottage (at Nether Stowey in the Quantocks – recently refurbished and now with more rooms open); Knightshayes Court near Tiverton; Arlington Court near Barnstaple (so much to see, you can easily spend the whole day here).

How about a safari on Exmoor? The drivers know where to take you for the best chances of seeing wildlife, even if the weather’s not that good. There are several safari companies; the ones nearest to Exmoor House are Barle Valley Safaris and Red Stag Safari. They may be able to pick you up from our door.

Museums? At Watchet there is the Boat Museum and the Market House Museum. Allerford has the West Somerset Rural Life Museum – a fascinating glimpse into the past, including a Victorian schoolroom. In Porlock, Dovery Manor and the Exmoor Classic Car Collection are both recommended. The Bakelite Museum at Williton was described by some of our guests as ‘quirky, eccentric and amazingly interesting’.

A trip on a steam train might be just the ticket. The West Somerset Railway operates services between Minehead and Bishop’s Lydeard. Day Rover tickets allow you to hop on and off at any station; you can buy the tickets at a discount from us here at Exmoor House. There’s something of interest at every station stop and some great views en route, including a different perspective on Dunster Castle. My favourite bit is where the railway line hugs the coast: it feels incredibly remote.

Other interesting places to visit? To meet many creatures great and small, there’s Tropiquaria, near Watchet, as well as the Exmoor Zoo, Bratton Fleming (which even has its own Exmoor Beast) and the Owl and Hawk Centre near Allerford. A bit further away, you could visit Quince Honey Farm at South Molton in Devon, for all things bee-related; or the Willows and Wetlands Centre at Stoke St Gregory to discover the huge part that willow has played in people’s lives on the Somerset Levels through the years and the sheer variety of things that can be made out of willow.

Just a few ideas, then... hope they'll be useful!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Walking on Exmoor: some walks we've done in summer and autumn 2011

 Recently we’ve discovered more new (to us) Exmoor walks which I’d like to share with you.

Withypool to Landacre Bridge: about 4.5 miles. Along the River Barle to the bridge, then back to Withypool via lanes and fields. It was a sunny late-summer day when we went, and the riverbanks were full of meadowsweet and montbretia, which made a stunning contrast with the bright blue sky. A small herd of Exmoor Horn sheep were totally unfazed, idly watching us as we walked through their field; the Exmoor ponies grazing near Landacre Bridge were similarly unbothered. Withypool’s pub, the Royal Oak, is cosy and homely, with local beers and great food.

Dulverton and Court Down: about 4 miles. Another walk that starts off by following the river. Be warned: the riverside path is closed at one point, after a landslide a couple of years ago. Follow the diversion signs and you’ll stay on the right track, emerging near Kennel Farm. There’s a leg-stretching climb up to the trig point on Court Down and a different perspective on Dulverton as you go back down into the village.

Dunster and Grabbist Hill: about 4.5 miles. Starts near Frackford Bridge, just outside Dunster on the road going up towards Wheddon Cross. There’s a longish climb up Grabbist Hill, fabulous views from the top and from Knowle Hill, a meander through plantations and finally a choice between a very (and I mean very) steep descent down towards Dunster and a less steep one (which, personally, I would choose next time!).

Hawkridge: about 3.5 miles. This one passes Tom Lock’s workshop (he’s known as the Antler Man; you’ll see why) and the church (worth a look: one of those charming, simple moorland churches with a lovely peaceful atmosphere). Then it follows an ancient trackway through fields and woods, emerging by Castle Bridge. You can also take a diversion to visit the remains of Brewer’s Castle, an Iron Age fort. A bridleway takes you along part of Dane’s Brook before meeting up with the original track to return to Hawkridge.

All these walks except the Dunster one are in ‘Shortish Walks on Exmoor’ (Robert Hesketh) published by Bossiney Books http://www.bossineybooks.com/

Friday, 23 September 2011

Food, glorious local food

Have you booked your tasting platter lunch at Exmoor House? They’re every day of the Exmoor Food Festival (30th September to 9th October inclusive) from 12 noon to 2pm. To tie in with the Food Festival, I thought I’d tell you a bit about some of our suppliers. We buy local as much as we can; it makes sense in so many ways, from supporting other local businesses to reducing food miles to knowing where things have come from!

Meat comes from John May Butchers in South Molton. They sell top-class meat, including the great sausages and dry-cure bacon (with the rind on) that we serve at breakfast, very chickeny free-range chicken and well-matured beef. John May deals with carefully-selected farms in Somerset and Devon.

Frank of Star Fish is our man-with-a-van who visits the village. His fish comes from Newlyn and he’s very knowledgeable about its provenance and sustainability. Cornish pollack, mackerel, naturally-smoked haddock and kippers all go down very well with our guests.

Most of our milk, butter and cheese are supplied by Axe Valley Dairies (currently based in Williton). We use Kelway Farm mature cheddar (made near Glastonbury); Exmoor Jersey Blue (from Lydeard St Lawrence) and Somerset brie. Goat’s cheese comes from Diana Piercy, a smallholder based in the Exe Valley. She makes soft and hard cheeses, both delicious. Diana also runs smallholding courses: visit http://exmoorsmallholdingcentre.co.uk/ for details.

Vegetables and fruit can be more difficult, as not that much is grown around here – it’s more hill-farming country. However, depending on when you visit, your dinner might include some of my home-grown herbs or salad leaves - you can't get much more local than that! My salad crops weren’t very successful this year, although the herbs are still going strong, and seem particularly vibrant.

It’s been a good year for fruit, and we went to the pick-your-own at Runnington Farm near Wellington: our jam and pickle cupboard is now fully stocked again. We get surplus fruit and veg from neighbours when we can: we’ve had luscious blackcurrants, and champion marrows and red cabbage. Occasionally we manage to get our hands on some Exmoor whortleberries, which just have to be made into a pie, served with lashings of clotted cream. In the asparagus season, a visit to the farm at Withycombe is in order – what a treat. They often sell home-made elderflower cordial too. We’ve also bought various things from a lady over near Tiverton who grows fantastic potatoes and beetroot (to name but two).

A neighbour’s free-range hens provide us with lovely eggs. Exmoor honey has a wonderful deep flavour – you can often taste the heather. We get ours from Exmoor Pure Honey in Allerford, or from The Archer House in Dunster.

When it comes to drinks, there’s a great choice of excellent local producers and suppliers. We use tea, coffee and hot chocolate from D J Miles of Porlock, whose blends are made to suit the water round here. Local vintner Washfield Wines provides most of the wines on our list, apart from those actually made on Exmoor, which come from Dunkery Vineyard in Wootton Courtenay. Their sparkling Exmoor Brut has received rave reviews. The bottled beers on our honesty bar come from Exmoor Ales and Cotleigh breweries, both based in Wiveliscombe. And of course we have Somerset ciders, from Sheppy’s near Taunton. For soft drinks, there’s the Devon-based Luscombe Organic Drinks.

Hungry yet? Hope to see you for lunch during the Exmoor Food Festival. If you can’t make that, though, remember we’re open for dinner most nights throughout the year. Booking is essential for lunch or dinner – just give us a call!

More information about the Exmoor Food Festival: http://www.exmoorfoodfestival.co.uk/

Monday, 12 September 2011

A Feast of Autumn Festivals

Autumn is festival time on Exmoor. Here’s a roundup of some things to look forward to…

Somerset Art Weeks, 17th September to 2nd October

Exhibitions and events celebrating the work of around 400 artists, in over 100 venues across the county. Venues include Hestercombe Gardens, Muchelney Abbey and Fleet Air Arm Museum as well as cafes, village halls and hotels. All events are free, showcasing arts and crafts in just about every medium you could imagine.

  Exmoor Food Festival, 30th September to 9th October

A real feast, not simply a metaphorical one, the Exmoor Food Festival seems to get better and better every year. There is something happening morning, noon and night: everything from food walks to cookery workshops, from farmers’ markets to a jelly-eating competition. At Exmoor House we are doing Tasting Platter lunches every day of the Festival, from noon till 2pm: an opportunity to try some of our delicious food made with love and lovely local ingredients. Booking is essential – call us on 01643 842432. More details from our website:  http://www.exmoorhotel.co.uk/festival.htm
If you can’t make lunch, do remember that non-residents are very welcome to book dinner at any time of year. And of course, Exmoor House is the ideal place to stay if you’re visiting the area.

North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival, 30th September to 3rd Octoberhttp://www.exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk/
Another one not to be missed! Walks for all ages, tastes and abilities, exploring Exmoor’s wonderfully varied terrain and maybe seeing some of our wildlife. To tie in with the Food Festival, some walks include food (a hearty breakfast or a traditional cream tea, anyone?) or include a pub stop. On several of the walks you may bring your dog.

The Two Moors Festival, 13th – 22nd October
Concerts and other musical happenings, as well as a series of talks, taking place all over Exmoor and Dartmoor. Many of the recitals feature up-and-coming young musicians. Some of the events are free (but do still need to be booked).

 See you soon!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Somerset wanderings in the Brendons & by the coast

The Brendon Hill Methodist Chapel (also known as the Beulah Chapel) celebrated its 150th anniversary on August 6th & 7th with an open weekend and an exhibition about its history. More info about the chapel can be found at http://exmoorencyclopedia.org.uk/contents-list/34-b/176-brendon-hill-methodist-chapel-beulah.html

We were there on the Sunday and joined a guided walk led by Phil Gannon. The weather was not the best so we had to cut the walk short, but we learnt some fascinating stuff about the West Somerset Mineral Line. It’s whetted our appetite to do one of the longer walks that are offered throughout the year – see http://www.westsomersetmineralrailway.org.uk/

Afterwards we went to Watchet for a wander round the harbour and a look round the very interesting museum in the old market house: more information at http://www.watchetmuseum.co.uk/ Then tea and cake at Chives café and deli (highly recommended!). Their website is at http://chives-deli.co.uk/

On to Binham Grange at Old Cleeve, where we’d been invited to a private viewing of the Gallery4Art summer exhibition. There’s an amazing collection of paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewellery and much more by this group of local artists. It’s on until 29th August (open 1030 – 1700 every day). If the thought of browsing some beautiful works of art (many of which are for sale) isn’t incentive enough, there’s also a programme of workshops on various arts and crafts running throughout the event (booking is advised for these: visit http://www.gallery4art.co.uk/ ). You can also enjoy morning coffee, afternoon tea or a fabulous lunch at Binham Grange.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Dunster: more than tea and fudge

The other week I talked about Minehead; this time I’m going to focus on Dunster, about six miles down the road from Wheddon Cross. If you’re staying with us, there’s a bus service several times a day and the bus stop is only a few yards away, so you don’t need to take the car.

Dunster deserves a good mooch around. It does indeed have many teashops (and several pubs), as well as shops selling fudge, chocolate, jewellery, clothes, books, crafts and souvenirs. We’ve had some great lunches in Dunster and have bought plenty of Christmas and birthday presents here, too.

Did I mention chocolate? If you’re a chocoholic, you need to visit The Chocolate House. More details at http://www.nutcombe-chocs.co.uk/ - and still on a confectionery theme: there’s a handily-placed weighing machine outside the fudge shop (check your weight before and after you’ve eaten the fudge?).

As with Minehead, though, look beyond the shops and eating places, and there’s much else to discover. The main streets of the village can get quite crowded with both people and traffic, but go just a little further and you’ll get an entirely different perspective and a real sense of the place’s history. A big attraction is of course the National Trust-owned castle - http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunstercastle - perched above the village and looking out towards the coast. I recommend taking the time to look round the gardens as well as the castle itself. If you feel like a slightly longer walk, there’s a path to the watermill, with the old packhorse bridge (Gallox Bridge) and some real chocolate-box cottages nearby.

Another footpath near Gallox Bridge will take you round the back of the castle, through fields behind the High Street, to Dunster Steep (where you’ll find the Exmoor National Park information office and the main car park). Dunster’s historic Yarn Market is on the High Street at this end of the village; you can’t miss it.

With the Yarn Market Hotel on your left and the Luttrell Arms on your right, take the narrow street that leads up to The Ball (some handsome houses, and photo-perfect views of the village and castle) then from The Ball turn left along Priory Green. This will bring you to the Tithe Barn, recently restored and now used for community events, and the ancient dovecote. The church has plenty of interest, and there’s also a series of walled gardens, providing a peaceful respite.

Now, how about a cup of tea?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Minehead grows on us!

When we first moved to West Somerset, the main attraction was Exmoor itself; we’d lived in cities all our lives and were ready for a change. Moving to a tiny village was certainly that! We enjoy village life: the sense of community, people looking out for one another, stopping for a chat with neighbours…

Minehead is our nearest biggish settlement; our first impressions were not that positive (OK to do a top-up shop, but rather resort-y). We now know that this was rather unfair. Scratch the surface and there’s a lot more to the place; you have to explore a bit to discover its character.

Yes, there are the chain shops you might expect to find in a town of this size, and the normal satellite retail estates with supermarkets and DIY-type stores. On the seafront (again, as you might expect) are amusement arcades, bucket-and-spade shops and all the ice cream, candy floss and chips you can eat.

Go further into town and you’ll also discover interesting, thriving independent shops among the usual suspects (if you’re staying at Exmoor House you can pick up a Minehead Shoppers Guide from us). On Friday mornings there’s a local farmer’s market.

Attractions and things to do include a long-established links golf course, the Regal Theatre and the West Somerset Railway. Butlins (you can’t miss it, with its millennium dome-type structure!) now has the only swimming pool in Minehead. Off The Avenue (the main street that goes down towards the sea) are the Blenheim Gardens, a pleasant place to mooch around, with a café in summer.

Along the promenade towards the harbour, passing old coastguard’s and fisherman’s cottages, you’ll find the start of the South West Coast Path, marked by a sculpture of hands holding a map. Past the harbour is a small nature reserve, leading on to hill and coastal walks. Go up to the old town and North Hill and you’ll get another perspective, with stunning sea views, more pretty old houses and cottages and the famous Church Steps. While you’re there, do visit the church itself.

For me, the main shopping streets, the beach area, the harbour and the old town all have completely different atmospheres; to get a true picture of Minehead you need to take the time to visit them all.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Exmoor in July: National Park celebrations, Minehead Festival, Dunster Fair - and a special offer from Exmoor House

National Parks Week, 25 – 31 July

Exmoor is contributing a series of great events to National Parks Week. You can discover more about local history on a stroll around the fascinating village of Dunster or a tour of the water-powered sawmill at Simonsbath. Take a minibus tour to some of Exmoor’s archaeological sites or a guided walk to learn some of the secrets of the Old Mineral Line. Join an Exmoor ranger to search for red deer, or find out about the creatures lurking in seaside rockpools.

You can find more details at

Minehead and Exmoor Festival, 24 – 30 July

A varied programme of music by composers from Arensky to Verdi, at venues in Minehead, Dunster and Dulverton. The festival has been described as ‘an extraordinary achievement of wonderful music making’. Richard Dickins (from Imperial College and Royal College of Music) conducts.

The full programme is at

Dunster Country Fair, 27th July

Held on the lawns of Dunster Castle, this is West Somerset’s biggest country fair. With displays of falconry, stunt motorcycles, horse and dog shows, laser clay pigeon shooting and archery, plus a funfair and children’s entertainment, food and drink – and not forgetting some retail therapy, with trade stands and a craft tent - there’s something for everybody.

More information at

Exmoor House July offer
At Exmoor House we're offering weekend dinner, bed & breakfast breaks (3 or more nights) for the same price as our midweek specials; that's from £174 per person for a 3-night stay. This offer applies to the last weekend in June and every weekend in July. See our website at http://www.exmoorhouse.com/ or call us on 01643 841432 for more information. Hope to see you soon!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A grand day out

A favourite day out of ours is a trip on the West Somerset Railway. Riding the steam trains is like going back in time and gives a very different perspective on the countryside between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard. Watch out for Dunster Castle, nestled among the trees; further on the line hugs the coast for a while; there are also wonderful views of the Brendons and the Quantocks.

If you have the time, it’s definitely worth changing trains at least once to have a mooch around. All the stations are interesting in their own right; some have second hand bookstalls, gift shops, museums or cafés. However, there is a lot more to see beyond the stations themselves. For example, Watchet is a fascinating little town, there are beaches at Blue Anchor and Doniford (the latter with fossil formations), and medieval Cleeve Abbey is within walking distance of Washford station.

Last time we travelled on the railway we took with us the two little books of ‘Country Walks from West Somerset Railway Stations’ (by Audrey & Ron Short, updated by Malcolm & Natalie Short, published by WSRA – we bought our copies from the gift shop at Minehead station). We walked from Crowcombe Heathfield to Bishops Lydeard, stopping for a very good lunch at the Farmers Arms, Combe Florey. At Bishops Lydeard there was time for a circular walk around the village and tea at the station before getting our train back to Minehead.

You can now buy West Somerset Railway Day Rover tickets from us at a discounted rate when you stay at Exmoor House. There’ll be details on our website soon, or contact us for more information.

Monday, 16 May 2011

More about car-free travel on Exmoor

Suggestions for car-free days out from Wheddon Cross was theme of my last blog post. Actually, it's perfectly possible (as some of our guests have done) to travel to Exmoor and all over the National Park by public transport, so that you don't need a car at all. Here's some food for thought...
For lots more ideas, covering the whole of Exmoor, check out Exmoor National Park's http://www.exploremoor.co.uk/ where you'll also find information about walking, cycling, riding and public transport, interactive maps and useful links.

A really useful service is the Moor Rover bus, which can pick you up and drop you off at any pre-arranged point within Exmoor National Park.

The minibuses have 8 - 16 seats and can carry bikes, wheelchairs and dogs; they can even be used to transport your luggage while you walk. From April to June the service is available for group bookings of 6 or more people. From July to September it operates every day, from 8.00am to 8.00pm and is available to individuals and groups. All journeys need to be booked at least a day in advance, by calling 01643 709701 (NB no booking service on Sundays). Visit http://www.atwest.org.uk/ for more details.

When you stay at Exmoor House Wheddon Cross we can give you details of the Exmoor walks we've done; we have lots of books and maps to borrow, plus information about walking and cycling (including cycle hire and walking guides) and the area in general. Other especially useful facilities here include a drying room and bike storage.

If you've been to Exmoor before, you'll know just what a beautiful and varied place it is - ideal for a brief escape, a short break or a long holiday. If not: what are you waiting for?


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Give the car a holiday too!

As part of our efforts to be more green, we've been looking into how people can give the car a rest for a few days while they're on Exmoor. Of course, there are lots of good walks you can do direct from Exmoor House, but if you use public transport you can go a bit further afield. Wheddon Cross has buses calling about six times most days (except Sundays).

Here are some suggestions for car-free itineraries:

Bus no 399. There’s plenty to see in Dunster, also several good circular walks from the village. If you're feeling energetic, you could walk all the way back to Wheddon Cross (some of our guests did this a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it)

Bus no 399. There's a choice of circular walks in the Barle Valley and the village itself is worth exploring (interesting Heritage Centre and church, some nice shops, several good pubs and tearooms).

Bus no 399 to Minehead then no 39 (or in summer, 300) Porlock and walk back to Wheddon Cross along the Coleridge Way; or walk to Porlock and get the bus back to Wheddon Cross.

West Somerset Railway
Bus no 399 to Minehead, West Somerset Railway to Bishops Lydeard and back (or to any of the other stops en route); bus back to Wheddon Cross from Minehead. There are walks from all the stations along the railway; some circular, some from one station to another.

Lynmouth (April - October)
Bus 399 to Minehead, then the 300 open-top bus to Lynmouth and back to Minehead; bus to Wheddon Cross.

In summer, there is also the Moor Rover bus - especially useful for walkers and cyclists. More about this another time...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Exmoor ponies in the spring

At Exmoor House we’ve had several people staying who were going to the Exmoor Pony Centre to visit a pony they’d adopted. A free afternoon last weekend coincided with the centre's Easter open day, so we went along to have a look for ourselves: a chance to see some of these unique and fascinating little horses close up.    

Some of the visitors were queuing to groom a patient pony until it positively gleamed; others took a ride round the field. The rest of the resident ponies were feeding, posing for pictures or basking in the sun. Most still had some at least of their thick winter coats, though I suspect they'll now be losing them rapidly.

The centre, with the Moorland Mousie Trust (Moorland Mousie is the pony protagonist of a children’s book) works ‘to promote and conserve the Exmoor pony’. Staff and volunteers help to re-home ponies, mainly excess young foals from the moor. As well as adopting a pony, there is the opportunity to sponsor a foal. In addition you can book a taster session to learn about caring for ponies, or a moorland ride.

No ponies on Winsford Hill that day; perhaps they were all at the centre! We carried on into Dulverton after our visit, calling in to the Town Mills (highly recommended) for tea & cake and visiting the Heritage Centre (lots to see, including this time a display of work by local artists and an exhibition about Exmoor Horn sheep).

It was a perfect sunny spring day: big skies, soft light, hazy shadows... The circular route we followed, from Wheddon Cross to Exford, on to Dulverton via Winsford Hill and Ashwick and back through Bridgetown, shows off some of the amazing variety of Exmoor's scenery.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Falconry and Farming on Exmoor

On Tuesday this week the Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre, near the picture-postcard village of Allerford, held an open day. We went along, and really enjoyed looking round.

The Centre has a good collection of owls and other birds of prey, but also alpacas, mini-pigs, ponies and miniature donkeys. There was an owl-flying demonstration and an opportunity for people to take a glove and some bait to try this for themselves (although the owls can be quite choosy about where they want to fly, and whose arm they want to land on!). It was a wonderful sunny day; although Rod Smith of the Centre says that their particular micro-climate means it's often sunny there when the weather is poor elsewhere in the area.

Other activities available include spending half a day or a full day getting to know the birds of prey and owls; also horse riding. There's an interesting display about the history of the farmstead, and about falconry, in the barn. The Centre also has a cafe selling drinks and snacks. A great day out for families.

Wednesday saw us in Porlock for the final Exmoor Awareness session this season (run by Exmoor National Park for tourism-related businesses). It's the first one we've managed to get along to, although every year we look at the programme and think how good all the sessions sound. Luckily they could fit us in at the last minute.

The theme was farming heritage, so there were presentations on how farming on Exmoor developed (I found the archaelogical perspective fascinating); local food production and how farmers are diversifying; a very entertaining personal view from a lady who married into a farming family, and discussion of how things could go in the future. As native townies now living in the country, we learnt a lot.

Unfortunately the planned post-lunch field trip to a local farm had to be cancelled but National Park staff organised a walk through Hawcombe Woods instead; we saw how the landscape has developed its unique characteristics through a combination of natural events and human activities - again very informative, and it was a great day for walking. It was also good to meet and network with other accommodation providers (and possible suppliers too).

We'll certainly try and make a few more of the Exmoor Awareness sessions next year!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Working together for tourism on Exmoor

We were at the Exmoor Tourist Association’s annual general meeting last week, at the Tithe Barn in Dunster. Always good to catch up with others involved in tourism; it’s rare to have an opportunity to network face to face. Many of us accommodation providers seem to have more bookings this year than last so far, which is good news.

Antony Brunt, the ETA chairman, and others of our hard-working officers, do a lot of work in promoting Exmoor (for example by representing the association at the Outdoors Show, BoBI and other travel-related exhibitions). We’re lucky to have an excellent administrator / secretary / membership secretary, Rachel Kelly; and our president, William Theed, is another fine ambassador for the area.

MP Ian Liddell-Grainger was at the meeting to give us a talk before going off to the House of Commons. He’s also very enthusiastic about promoting tourism on Exmoor – though I wasn’t sure about his description ‘like Dartmoor, but with more people’! If we’re to compare the two Moors, then I prefer the definition that has been doing the rounds on twitter: Exmoor is the thinking man’s Dartmoor. Nothing like stirring things up a bit…

Dan James of Exmoor National Park updated us on what’s happening with the park authority and with the Exmoor Tourism Partnership: plenty of positive developments there. I was pleased to note that the National Park has some more new ideas in the pipeline about helping green businesses promote themselves.

A highlight of ETA meetings is always the catering! We had melt-in-the-mouth shortbread biscuits with our coffee before the meeting, and as usual there was a very good, imaginative selection on the lunchtime buffet. (Well, if you’ve been following our blog – indeed if you’ve seen our website – you’ll know that we’re constantly thinking about food, one way or the other).

After lunch Ross Edwards of EDF gave a presentation about the proposed nuclear development, Hinkley Point C. This is something that raises concerns on many levels, and Ross made it clear that, as a PR person, he is not an expert on the safety (or otherwise) aspect of the project. However, he gave us some interesting details about how EDF proposes to minimise adverse effects on the surrounding area during the building work. It’s early days yet, and there’s a lot more to be said on all sides; no doubt the consultation will run and run. I’ll make no further comment for the moment, but you can find the relevant documentation here:


If you're involved in tourism on Exmoor and aren't already a member of ETA, I'd urge you to consider joining. There are many benefits, including some good marketing opportunities, and we think the fee is very good value. For more details, visit

Friday, 18 March 2011

A green celebration at Wheddon Cross on Exmoor

Dick Strawbridge, of  the TV series 'It's Not Easy Being Green' (and, more recently, Celebrity Masterchef) fame was the star speaker at a Carbon Neutral Exmoor Celebration last night. 

Over a hundred people filled the Moorland Hall at Wheddon Cross to hear about green projects in six villages on Exmoor, which have been funded through the Low Carbon Communities Challenge. Exmoor National Park has an ambitious target: to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.

Representatives from the communities of Roadwater, Parracombe, Wootton Courtenay, Porlock, Dunster and Wheddon Cross shared their experiences of the various projects, which included low carbon energy installations at village halls, a community-owned shop, an information centre and a sports ground.

We had a look at the Moorland Hall's newly installed wood-burning boiler, which keeps the building toasty warm. The hall now also has sheepswool insulation and a state-of-the-art heat recovery system. At our local pub, solar panels and a solar photovoltaic system have been fitted, also with the help of funding from the community project.

In fact Wheddon Cross may well hold the record for the widest range of green energy technologies on Exmoor: the new houses currently being built for local people have solar panels and the development will include some air source and ground source heat pumps. Some of our neighbours built their own eco-homes a few years ago.

Dick Strawbridge was very entertaining and down to earth; he and his family practise what they call 'practical self-sufficiency', which makes excellent sense. Many of the people at the meeting already try to be as green as they can, but I hope he wasn't only preaching to the converted. I think, though, that the celebration evening will have the desired effect of inspiring people to go that stage further and look at generating their own power or using more sustainable alternatives. It helps to know that others locally have been down this road and can offer the benefit of their experience.

The final part of the event was a visit to the Rest and Be Thankful pub, where Eric and Julie provided a great buffet and there was some Irish music (it was St Patrick's day after all). It was too dark to see the solar panels properly, but we've been able to see the installation as it progressed. Some networking and general good company finished the evening off nicely. A big thank you to all at Exmoor National Park who've worked so hard to help bring everything to fruition, against a very tight deadline.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Exmoor walks, a lovely little museum, a good pub and an auction

We've had some lovely spring weather these last few days. The daffodils are coming on nicely, the herbs are growing well and there are ladybirds and bees in our garden. Good omens for the summer to come, we hope...

The West Somerset Rural Life Museum, in Allerford, had an open day this week and we went along to have a look. Several of our guests have been to the museum and really enjoyed it: we did too. The main room contains an exhibition of household items (much exclamation of 'oh, my mum used to have one of those!' as we looked round) as well as equipment from farms and other local businesses, all giving a good insight into day-to-day life in this area in years gone by. In the Schoolroom, children (and adults) can try their hand at writing on slates and look at Victorian textbooks, playground games and toys. There are even Victorian clothes so children can dress up for the full experience. Finish your visit by looking at the archive of local photographs and the outdoor display area. The museum is run by volunteers and they're always looking for more people to help, so if you live in the area and can spare some time, they would be delighted to hear from you.

While in Allerford (by the way, if you imagine the quintessential idyllic English village, it might look very like Allerford) we walked up through the woods towards Bossington, stopping to have a look at Lynch church. There are a good number of trails round here, for anything from a short stroll to a full day's hike.

Another walk we've done recently is from Challacombe over to the church at Barton Town: a good mix of woodland, fields and views of Exmoor hills and combes. Part of the reason for our visit to Challacombe was to visit the Black Venus pub for lunch, and we'd thoroughly recommend it: friendly atmosphere and good food in generous portions; a nice variety of things on the menu.

And speaking of food (which I often do): dinner for two at Exmoor House was one of the lots at an Auction of Promises held at the Wheddon Cross village hall on Friday. The auction was great fun, and raised money for the Golden Horseshoe endurance ride and the Dorset, Somerset & Devon air ambulances. We look forward to seeing our neighbours who won the dinner!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival, April - May 2011

This is the 11th year for the very successful North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival. In 2011 the festival's split into two parts: from 29th April to 3rd May it will focus on North Devon, then from May 4th to 8th it covers Exmoor and the Quantocks.

I'm going to concentrate here on the second half of the festival, as it covers our home turf. The nearest walks to Exmoor House start from Webbers Post (Walk 5B High Beacons and Cairns; Walk 7D Flora and Fauna Discovery); Carhampton (Walk 6C: Dunster Breakfast Walk); Dunster (Walk 7A Vistas of Dunster and Dunkery; Walk 8A All Things Bright and Beautiful) and Allerford (Walk 5E Beacons, Look-outs and Coastal Combes).

In fact, though, we're more or less in the centre of the National Park here at Wheddon Cross, so the whole of Exmoor is within easy reach.

Wimbleball Lake is about 8 miles from Wheddon Cross and the Festival includes a Wimbleball Nature Discovery (Walk 7C). The nine-mile trail around the lake, part of which is included on this walk, is one of the few flat(ish) walks on Exmoor!

Wherever you walk on Exmoor, though, you really can't go wrong. There's wonderful scenery - and a huge range of it at that, from coast, to hills, to woodland, to farmland. Walking can be as challenging as you like, and with luck you might even see Exmoor ponies or red deer.

The Walking Festival gives a great flavour of the whole area, from meandering along the Barle to striding along the South West Coastal Path, from high open moorland to deep combes, from searching for deer to visiting ancient monuments and discovering the smallest church in England. Come along and see for yourself!

You can book walks, and find out lots more information, at http://www.exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk/

With the extra bank holiday falling during the Walking Festival, you might find it easier to take a longer break, and explore this beautiful area further. See you soon maybe?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Spring is on the way on Exmoor

After a long cold winter, it seems spring is definitely on the way (or maybe I'm tempting fate by writing that!). These last few days have been much milder, and the daffodils are coming along well in our garden. The herbs are starting to wake up from their hibernation too, and soon we'll have beautiful fresh lovage, marjoram, chives and fennel (to name a few).

The snowdrops in Snowdrop Valley are still looking wonderful. Park & ride buses from Wheddon Cross continue for the rest of this week; the last day is this Sunday, February 27th. Do remember though that the road down to the valley will remain closed to traffic until March 6th - so between Feb 27th and Mar 6th, the only way to the valley will be on foot. Our dining room at Exmoor House will be open as a tearoom on most days until March 6th, serving cream teas (of course!), homemade rolls with a choice of fillings, hot soup, a selection of cakes, and more. Everything's homemade, including our delicious teacakes. Do remember too that you can book lunch at Exmoor House at any time of year (subject to availability) for groups of 4 or more people; we'll plan the menu to suit you.

In my last post I mentioned the Exmoor 4 x 4 Jaunt and Challenge, which is centred on Wheddon Cross during the weekend of March 19th and 20th. This popular event raises funds for the rugby charity Wooden Spoon. The off-road vehicles follow carefully planned routes, where the landowners have given them permission to go. You can see more detail about the event at  http://www.4x4onexmoor.co.uk/

Also on March 19th and 20th, as well as March 24th - 27th, is the West Somerset Railway Spring Steam Gala. This year the Gala celebrates 35 years of the West Somerset Railway running along the former Taunton to Minehead Branch of British Rail. There'll be many visiting locomotives (including new types not seen before on this line), and plenty of attraction around railway to visit, including sheds and workshops. You'll find updates about the gala at http://www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/ssg.html
Whether you're a rail enthusiast or not, a trip on the railway is highly recommended. It's a scenic, tranquil journey between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard. Each station has something interesting to look at, and there are some good walks from the stations also.

At Exmoor House we have a special offer during the rest of February, and March: weekend dinner, bed & breakfast breaks are the same price as midweek breaks. Currently there are some rooms available for most dates, including during the events mentioned here. There's more detail on our website. Why not treat yourselves to a spring getaway?  To make a booking, just give us a call!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Exmoor: have your cake and eat it

We love living on Exmoor. Beautiful scenery, friendly communities, great local food...

Exmoor is truly a place where you can escape and get away from everything. The countryside is very unspoilt, with some extremely wildernessy areas; the roads are uncrowded and the pace of life is relaxed.

Yet, we seem to have it both ways (or have our cake and eat it too) because there's always something going on. Just to give you a few examples of things happening in the next few months:

Right now, it's snowdrop time, and each year there's an amazing spring display of these fabulous flowers, almost on our doorstep. Snowdrop Valley is just a mile or so from our village, Wheddon Cross. It's a pretty (but steep & sometimes muddy - appropriate footwear advised) walk down to the valley and back, or there are park & ride buses from the village car park.

And speaking of cake again: at Exmoor House we open our dining room as a tearoom during the day during Snowdrop Valley time, serving snacks, light lunches, hot & cold drinks and more. The park & ride, which runs until 27th February, is run by our local parish council, with support from the Exmoor National Park Authority and the Badgeworthy Land Company. Exmoor House tearoom will be open until 6th March (although after then we can still do prebooked lunches or meetings for groups of 4 or more people: just contact us if you'd like more details).

Later in March (19th & 20th) is Exmoor 4 x 4 Jaunt and Challenge, which raises money for charity. The West Somerset Railway's very popular Spring Steam Gala is on the 19th & 20th also, and then from the 24th - 27th.

April 29th sees the start of the North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival. It continues until May 8th, and includes a fantastic variety of walks that cover most of Exmoor. The extra public holiday, which will mean many people can extend their Easter break, fits in nicely with the Walking Festival.

More in May: the famous Golden Horseshoe ride, an endurance ride across Exmoor National Park, is an exciting spectacle. Many people come back year after year to watch or to take part. It's centred on Exford (5 miles from Exmoor House), is on May 15th - 17th and also includes social events, trade stands, demonstrations and a sponsored pleasure ride.
There are links to these events (and more besides) from our website http://www.exmoorhouse.com/  
You'll also find lots of information about our award-winning guest house accommodation - including current special offers - and pictures of the snowdrops too.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Walking on Exmoor: some winter walks

We've had some lovely clear, crisp weather on Exmoor this last week or so, and we've taken advantage of it to do some of our favourite walks:

- Down to Snowdrop Valley and back via a circular walk that takes us through farmland as well as woods and lanes. I can report that the snowdrops are coming along; there were a few splashes of white last Sunday, so should be looking good for the park & ride from Wheddon Cross (5th - 27th February).

- To Dunkery Hill, up to the top of Dunkery Beacon via the longer route, then heading continuing on towards the coast for some spectacular views (and often sightings of Exmoor ponies, though there weren't any around the other day)

- Along the shores of Wimbleball Lake. We walked up to the dam and back, from the car park, then the other day towards the nature trail. The full circuit of the lake (about 9 miles) is well worth doing too

- From Exford up to Room Hill and back; again, some amazing countryside views.

Heading into spring and early summer, this year's North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival runs from 29th April to 8th May and includes  a range of fantastic walks for all abilities. More about this soon; you also see full details, and book walks, at http://www.exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk/

Friday, 14 January 2011

Snowdrop Valley 2011: stay at Exmoor House and see the snowdrops

Snowdrop Valley, near Wheddon Cross, used to be one of Exmoor's best-kept secrets. Now the secret is out, and many people come back year after year to see the spectacular display of snowdrops, normally at its best in February. It's a welcome sign that Spring is on the way...

Here at Exmoor House, right in the centre of Wheddon Cross village, our dining room will be open as a tea room most days during Snowdrop Valley time (5th February to 6th March). We'll be serving hot drinks, cold drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), soup, light lunches, home-made cakes and scones, and more - hope to see you. 

If you'd like to make a booking for a group, please contact us to discuss your requirements. Remember, too, that Exmoor House is open most nights for dinner (booking essential).

And why not stay on for a few days to explore this beautiful area further? Check out our website at http://www.exmoorhouse.com/ for details of our accommodation and special dinner, bed & breakfast packages.
The walk down to the valley and back is extremely pretty, but it is steep and can get very muddy. Allow at least 1.5 hours for the return trip and wear appropriate winter clothing and footwear.

There's a park and ride scheme for Snowdrop Valley, run by Cutcombe Parish Council with support from Exmoor National Park, the Badgworthy Land Company and Exmoor Farmers. Buses leave regularly from the village car park (by the Rest & Be Thankful pub); last bus back from the valley is at 4.35pm. This year the park and ride runs every day from Saturday 5th February until Sunday 27th February. Tickets cost £4 for adults, with concessions for senior citizens and children aged from 5 to 15 (under 5s travel free).

The bus route will be closed to all motor traffic except residents, and disabled drivers, who need to obtain a permit before entering the valley. For more details, visit the Wheddon Cross website  at http://www.wheddoncross.org.uk/ or contact the Snowdrop Valley organiser on snowdropvalley@googlemail.com

Note that the road will stay closed for a week after the park and ride finishes, so from 28th February to 6th March you'll still be able to walk to see the snowdrops but there will be no buses running. Snowdrop Valley is privately owned and access is kindly granted by the Badgworthy Land Company.

Donations are always very welcome to help in the running of Snowdrop Valley, so that the village can continue to operate the park and ride in future years.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

January special offer on Exmoor dinner, bed and breakfast breaks

Happy new year! We decided to take a break ourselves over the festive season, and went visiting family and friends. Now we're back, refreshed and ready to welcome our guests to Exmoor.

To start off 2011, we've a special offer on dinner, bed & breakfast packages. It runs for stays starting from now until 24th January, and you can save up to £50 on our normal prices.

For example:

The special offer price for a 3-night break, with 3-course dinner, bed & breakfast, is £169.50 per person (normally up to £193.50). For a 4-night break on the same basis, it's £208 per person (normally up to £258).

All prices are based on two people sharing a double or twin-bedded room.

To take advantage of this special deal, you need to book with us direct; the offer's not available to book via our website. Just give us a call...

Look forward to hearing from you!