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!