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

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?