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North Devon & Exmoor - The author’s take
Going Slow in North Devon & Exmoor
Always there has been the sea, which shaped the history of this county... And for the present-day holiday-maker it is the reason they come to North Devon.
Recently I was asked by a travel magazine to list my five favourite places in the world. After the expected exotics of Madagascar, Ethiopia and Peru, I put North Devon. I’d just come back from a research trip for this book, walking some of the coastal paths in glorious sunshine and discovering new (to me) churches and unsung villages, and my heart was full of how lucky I am to live in the South West and to be writing this book. The region has so much to offer the Slow traveller: cliff paths for walking, sea with rolling breakers for surfing and sandy beaches for lounging, hidden coves, and wonderful Exmoor with its heathery hills and deep valleys, combes, where rivers tumble over mossy stones on their way to the Bristol Channel. Always there has been the sea, which shaped the history of this county. It provided food – mainly herrings – and adventure for the men of Devon and West Somerset. It allowed invaders such as Hubba the Dane to threaten these shores, and it was the means whereby the great explorers set forth to discover new lands; it provided wealth to the smugglers and heartbreak to the victims of wreckers. And for the present-day holiday-maker it is the reason they come to North Devon.
Hartland Point © ASC Photography, Shutterstock
In the course of my research I’ve been able to follow obscure leads and find many places other guidebooks ignore. For one thing, I’ve been able to indulge my passion for country churches, using a variety of specialist books to ferret out the most interesting. I make no apology for my enthusiasm for these ‘storerooms of history’ – they exemplify Slow travel, being free (apart from what you put in the donations box), unpromoted and often mysterious to the uninformed.
This region, particularly Exmoor, is poorly served by guidebooks – a remarkable omission for one of the smallest, most diverse, and certainly one of the most beautiful of all our nation’s national parks. Perhaps that is because the park is divided between two counties, with two different county councils involved in promotion and, to some extent, administration. I hope this book addresses the matter and helps visitors appreciate what so many ignore; the relative lack of visitors here is the Slow traveller’s delight. But Exmoor deserves more. I want locals who thought they were familiar with the region to say ‘I didn’t know that!’ And I want visitors from afar to learn that there’s more to Devon and Exmoor than the beaches and commercial places that get into the tourist brochures (although they’re also included here).That’s what Slow is all about.
In a small area it seemed to contain everything I liked best about rural England.
Exmoor was one of the first place names I knew – it was where Moorland Mousie, hero of one of my favourite pony books, came from, and I desperately wanted an Exmoor pony. A few years later I lived the dream and rode over the huge expanse of those moors, splashing through rivers and cantering along grassy tracks through the bracken. I was hooked. Even the mist and drizzle seemed romantic and my first cream tea extraordinary. It was over 40 years before I returned with a walking group, climbing Dunkery Beacon in a sea of purple heather and picnicking beside Tarr Steps. But only when researching the forerunner to this book, Slow Devon & Exmoor, did I really start to look at this extraordinary part of the West Country. In a small area it seemed to contain everything I liked best about rural England: dramatic coastal scenery, lovely little villages advertising cream teas, a tiny church half hidden in the woods – and Exmoor ponies.
The River Barle Valley © DavidYoung, Shutterstock