Today, I found myself in the somewhat unusual position of having nothing planned. The sun was out, I didn’t want to be inside and I wanted to play with my X100s. So I decided to take a drive over the moor and visit some of the villages on Exmoor. The idea was to take photos in each village of their notice boards, something I have been pondering doing for a while. As it turned out, the boards weren’t as interesting as I’d hoped, so I decided to just take a photo of whatever jumped out at me. This then left me with the question of what to do with the photos, so I have decided to give you a brief history lesson for each village. So, in no other order than the order I visited them, here they are:
The village of Simonsbath began life in the mid 19th century with the purchase of land by the Knight family who wanted to convert the Exmoor forest land into a vast agricultural centre. Their vision was sadly not to be fully realised but the building of St Luke’s Church in 1856, along with the opening of a nearby mine, meant that residential houses swiftly followed and a small hamlet began to take shape. Here too, is a sawmill, built by John Knight in the early 19th century, which ran on water power from the nearby River Barle right up until the 1950s. Lottery funding has since enabled the sawmill to be restored into working order and a group of volunteers provide regular access to the public so visitors can see a Victorian sawmill in action once more.
Withypool takes its name from the willow trees, or withies, that grow alongside the nearby River Barle. The village surroundings have a long history behind them with settlements stretching back to the Bronze Age. Withypool itself is mentioned in the Domesday book and during the 14th century, it had the honour of being looked after by Geoffrey Chaucer in his role as forester for the North Petherton estate. The local public house, the Royal Oak Inn, also has a few claims to fame – R.D Blackmore wrote Lorna Doona whilst staying here, and artist Alfred Munnings had a studio in the attic. Prince William also dined in the Royal Oak in 2006 after attending a nearby Tetrathlon.
Exford village is located on the River Exe in the heart of Exmoor. Described almost universally as a very beautiful and picturesque place, Exford is built around a central village green and dates back to the middle ages. The village church, originally the Church of St Salvyn, now the Church of St Mary Magdalene, is a grade 2 listed building and was built around about the 16th century. The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, written in 1870-72, described it simply as having ‘a lofty tower, and is good’. Exford is also known for being the home of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds kennels since their construction by Montague Bissett in 1875.
Winsford, though sharing its name with the larger town in Cheshire, is in this case a small village located near Dulverton in Somerset. The local area around Winsford offers much in the way of interesting history – the nearby Winsford Hill has three Bronze Age burial mounds, known collectively as the Wambarrows, that date back to around 1500BC. Legend has it that they are haunted by a big black hound with ‘glowing saucer eyes’ that guards the treasures within. The Caratacus Stone, a standing stone inscribed with a Roman dedication, is also on Winsford Hill and Winsford village is, none too surprisingly, to be found in the Domesday Book, though today’s inhabitants may be slightly disturbed to hear that the population at the time included 9 slaves. In more recent times, Winsford became the home of the Exmoor Community Computer Centre which aimed to provide more educational opportunities and greater access to social and recreation services for local people. Sadly due to a lack of funding, the centre has since closed.
Wheddon Cross is the youngest of the villages that I have visited today, though it’s the second highest on Exmoor at 980 feet above sea level, only just below Simonsbath. It’s also only three miles away from the highest point on Exmoor, Dunkery Beacon, which reaches the dizzying heights of 1704 feet above sea level. The village itself though came into being with the construction of the Minehead to Bampton turnpike in the early 1800s and not too surprisingly, is named after the crossroads on which it sits. Along with its sister village of Cutcombe, it’s probably best known today for Snowdrop Valley, a nearby privately owned valley that opens to the public in February each year so that visitors can enjoy viewing the thousands of small white flowers that make up a carpet of snowdrops and give the valley its name.
(thanks to my research assistant once again.)
My website : www.andrewhobbsphotography.co.uk