Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Dulverton by Starlight, Sunday 8th December: more Exmoor Christmas shopping

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about Dunster by Candlelight. That isn’t the only magical pre-Christmas event on Exmoor, though. Dulverton by Starlight takes place on the same weekend as the Dunster festivities, but on the Sunday, so that you could take a three day break and visit both.

On December 8th all the shops in Dulverton will be open. There is a great selection of interesting places to buy all sorts of Christmas presents, to suit all tastes. Dulverton is an attractive place to wander round, with proper small independent shops and plenty of local Somerset produce for sale. You won’t go hungry either – the town has some very good places to eat, from pubs and restaurants to cafés and tea rooms.

And even if the stars in the sky are not visible, there’s still a starlight effect from the many light-festooned Christmas trees around the town.

The organisers promise a full afternoon of festivities, culminating in a grand firework display. There is also a raffle with excellent prizes (the draw is on 14th December).

For more information, visit http://www.dulvertonbystarlight.co.uk/index.html

Want a lovely place to stay for your early December break? Take a look at our website http://www.exmoorhotel.co.uk - Exmoor House offers bed and breakfast (and dinner too), and is near both Dulverton and Dunster (in between the two, in fact).

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Dunster by Candlelight 6th and 7th December: Christmas shopping (and more) Exmoor style

Over the last few years, it seems that there has been a big increase in Christmas markets in England. Many of them are German style. Nothing wrong with that, but how about a really English Christmas shopping experience?

Every year on the first Friday and Saturday evenings in December (the 6th and 7th this year), Dunster village on Exmoor has a ‘big switch off’ and the streets are illuminated by candle lanterns instead of electricity. It really seems like going back in time, especially as Dunster still has the look and feel of a medieval village. To complete this experience, no cars or other vehicles are allowed into the village during the candlelit festivities.  

 Most of the village shops stay open until 9pm on both nights. There’s lots of inspiration for original and unusual Christmas gifts (and even a special Christmas shop) but it’s not all about shopping. There will be plenty to see and do even if you are just browsing. Plenty of places to eat and drink, too, with everything from street snacks to a three course meal, or maybe simply some hot chocolate or mulled wine to keep you warm.

The festival kicks off on the Friday at 5.30pm, with a lantern lighting procession featuring stiltwalkers. Entertainment each evening includes a variety of musicians and singers, both in the streets and at the Parish Church, so there is a real buzz. You’ll also find displays by local attractions at various venues, and maybe talks by local celebrities. Full details are in the programme, available in advance and on the night (it costs £1, with all the proceeds going to the Somerset charity St Margaret’s Hospice).

You may be wondering: with no vehicles allowed into Dunster on the Candlelight evenings, how do we get there?  The answer: use the Park & Ride buses, which go to Dunster from various places including our village, Wheddon Cross. The buses from Wheddon Cross start from Cutcombe Market (where there is free parking, although if you’re staying here at Exmoor House it’s only about a 5 minute walk to the market). The first bus to Dunster is at 4.30pm, and they’re approximately every half hour after that, with the last bus back to Wheddon Cross leaving Dunster at 9.15pm. Return fare is £3.00.

As I write this, we have a few rooms left for the Candlelight weekend. Dunster itself will be pretty hectic, so if you stay at our place at Wheddon Cross you can experience all the fun of the fair (as it were) and then escape to a calmer atmosphere afterwards. Best of both worlds!

Visit our website www.exmoorhotel.co.uk for lots more information (including details of special dinner bed and breakfast breaks).

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Autumn on Exmoor: enjoying the harvest

I’ve always loved autumn; to me as a child it meant bonfires, harvest festivals, picking blackberries, seeing the changing colours of the leaves, then jumping into piles of crunchy leaves… and thinking about it, nothing much has changed – that still just about sums it up.

Here on Exmoor, the local villages will soon be holding their harvest lunches and suppers, to celebrate the
gathering in of all kinds of crops – and just to have a get-together - always fun occasions and very well attended.

Autumn really does seem to be a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness this year. The past few days have started off mysteriously misty, with full sun by the afternoon. And fruitfulness-wise, everything’s been burgeoning. The glut has meant that we’ve been lucky enough to have received various produce from kind people. If you've read this blog before, or seen our webstie, you'll know that food is a subject very dear to our hearts.

First came a large Boston winter squash, from which we made soup (see http://exmoorhousewx.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/squash-soup-autumn-recipe-from-exmoor.html ). Then some wonderful windfall apples. Nothing can compare with fresh English apples; it’s a shame so many in the shops are imported. Plums from a neighbour’s tree have made up into lovely jam; ornamental Japanese quinces from another neighbour have given us japonica jelly. Made in a similar way to apple jelly, it has a sweet-and-sour taste that goes well with meat and cheese – and apple pie. We’ve also served it with our vanilla ice cream as part of a fruity sundae. There are field mushrooms galore; delicious with a garlic sauce, or simply fried in a bit of butter (NB: never eat any wild mushrooms unless you have definitely identified them as being non-poisonous). And of course we’ve been picking blackberries; try blackberry and pear crumble as a change from the ubiquitous blackberry and apple.

The beautiful summer we’ve had has done wonders for the herbs in our garden. The lovage plant reached over 8 feet tall this year. Normally by this time it would not have many leaves left; but there is quite a bit of new growth at the foot so we’ll probably get a few more pans of carrot & lovage soup yet. I’ve already got some of the seeds drying (they can be used to season casseroles and so on, and have a particular affinity with beef). The mint has gone, well, berserk – and the rosemary has done better than I’ve ever seen it here.

Exmoor’s changing colours are always a delight; at this time of year the beech hedges are starting to fade to browny-gold; there are just a last few flowers of heather and gorse clinging on, and the hawthorn and rowan berries are in their full glory. Why not come and see for yourself?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Squash soup: an autumn recipe from Exmoor House

The other week some kind guests brought us a present: a large squash from their allotment. This turned out to be a Boston marrow winter squash, which resembles a pumpkin in texture and colour but is more lemon- or gourd-shaped. It can be used in all the same ways as a pumpkin (e.g. baked, included in casseroles, and to make pies, purées and soup). If you’ve stayed with us at Exmoor House, you’ll know that we love good food and enjoy trying different ingredients and flavour combinations.
In autumnal mood because it was a lovely autumn day, I just fancied some soup. On the web I found many recipes for squash soup, some of them quite fancy. I decided that mine would be simple and basic, so that the squash could speak for itself – it adds a lovely velvety texture and has a sweet, mellow taste. The soup could then be jazzed up if required. Here’s what I did… by the way, I deliberately haven’t mentioned any quantities here, because it will depend on how much squash you’re using. You might need a very large pan, though.
Cut the squash into chunks and peel it. Fry the chunks in olive oil with some chopped onions. Add vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you prefer) plus some fresh herbs (I tied mine in a piece of muslin to make a bouquet garni, bruising the herbs so that the flavour went into the soup) and garlic. I also added pepper, but not salt. Bring the pan to the boil and simmer until the squash and onions are soft. Liquidise the mixture (removing the bouquet garni first, which I nearly forgot to do!).
We ate the soup with a dusting of smoked paprika as a garnish. You could also use other spices such as cumin, or perhaps small pieces of crispy bacon, fried sage leaves, crème fraîche, cream, most cheeses… I’m sure there are many more possibilities, so do let me know if you discover one that is particularly fabulous.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Shorter, flatter walks on Exmoor (part 2)

Here are some further ideas for Exmoor and Somerset walks for people who don’t want to – or aren’t able to – do more strenuous walking.

Horner Woods
foxgloves in Horner Wood

Start from Horner village and follow the (mostly level) track into the woods; walk as far as you like, then back the same way. There are two (seasonal) tea gardens in the village, near the car park, for refreshments after your walk. Horner Wood is very atmospheric, and rich in both flora and fauna.
Find more information about the woods here:

Snowdrop Valley near Exmoor House

Snowdrop Valley

When the snowdrops are in bloom (February to early March) there is a park & ride bus from Wheddon Cross down to the valley. The rest of the year, you can drive down there via the narrow lane and use the pull-in car park, which has space for just a couple of vehicles. There’s a flat, even-surfaced there-and-back walk in the valley itself; you could make it a circular walk by returning on the other side of the river (gentle slopes, more uneven ground).

Washford to Watchet (or vice versa)
Follow the line of the old Mineral Railway. You could combine this walk with a trip on the West Somerset Railway as there are stations in both Watchet and Washford.

Tarr Steps
Tarr Steps, Exmoor

A favourite spot for picnics. For an easy circular walk: go down to the river from the car park near Tarr Farm (quite a steep slope), turn right along the river path without crossing the Tarr Steps clapper bridge, then in about a mile cross the river via a footbridge. Walk back on the other side and cross back over the river via the clapper bridge. If you don’t like the idea of walking across Tarr Steps, then you could just walk along the river and back again.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Shorter, flatter walks on Exmoor (part 1)

Exmoor is wonderful walking country. There are plenty of challenging walks, but this article is for those people who don’t want to walk too far or are not particularly mobile, but still want to get an idea of the fantastic variety of scenery within and around the National Park. 

Woodland near Nutcombe Bottom

The Tall Trees Trail, Crown Estate, Dunster
From Nutcombe Bottom, near Dunster village. Visit the tallest tree in England on this easily accessible woodland trail.


Wimbleball Lake
Wimbleball Lake
From the car park by the café it’s a shortish downhill walk to the lakeshore. Once by the lake, if you go right it takes you towards the dam; turn left to go towards a small nature reserve and Bessom Bridge. There are various tracks and trails (mainly flat), or you could just walk as far as you feel like along the main lakeside path, and back again. 

Clatworthy Reservoir
Again, there’s a downhill walk to the lake itself from the car park and the lakeside walk is pretty flat.

Near Heddon's Mouth

Heddon’s Mouth
The walk to Heddon’s Mouth and back, from Hunter’s Inn, has some spectacular scenery. There are some (gentleish) slopes and uneven, stony ground. 


This village, owned by the National Trust, is very interesting to wander round, and there’s also a flat walk to the coast at Bossington Beach, well worth a visit.

For more ideas (including information about hiring all-terrain mobility scooters) visit

Friday, 26 July 2013

Exmoor: What's happening in August 2013?

In Exmoor National Park there is always plenty going on. Here are some Exmoor events coming up this August:
Minehead and Exmoor Music Festival 1st - 3rd
National Parks Week 1st - 4th
Cutcombe village fete 3rd -one of the prizes in the Grand Draw is dinner for two at Exmoor House
Exmoor Explorer off-road cycle trial from Wheddon Cross 4th – if you're taking part, you could make a weekend of it and stay at Exmoor House and enjoy our fab food
Exford Show 14th  
Porlock Country Fair 11th
Minehead Summer Festival 14th -  includes a display by the Red Arrows and Red Devils, also an arts, crafts & produce market & various other stalls)
Dunster Show 16th - a great day out  http://thedunstershow.co.uk/
Exmoor Pony Festival 24th - 31st to 1st Sept - more info at http://exmoorponyfestival.wordpress.com/
There will also be lots of things happening at the National Trust properties in the area (for example on the Holnicote Estate, at Dunster Castle and in the Heddon Valley). Visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/whats-on/events/ where you can look up specific areas.
Exmoor National Park’s events in August include woodland and moorland walks to learn more about the area’s wonderful range of wildlife as well as to discover some archaeological sites; seaside safaris; Big Adventure days.
For even more ideas, have a look at...
Inspired to pay a visit? Check out our dinner, bed and breakfast breaks at http://www.exmoorhotel.co.uk

Monday, 1 July 2013

Beech leaf gin

Talking to some twitter friends a couple of months ago reminded me that for the last several years I’d intended to make beech leaf gin – also called noyau – but had never got round to it. Our exchange of tweets was the nudge I needed to get going. Late spring or early summer is the time to make this drink, and on Exmoor we have a plethora of beech trees... tall beech hedges are a distinctive feature of this lovely area.

There are several recipes around; I used the one in Richard Mabey’s book Food for Free (an excellent read, by the way, as is his Flora Britannica).

You’ll need a large jar, which you pack about nine-tenths full of beech leaves. Pick the leaves when they’re young, soft and that delicious lime green colour. This year the leaves on the beech tree in our garden were at that stage in mid May (but everything’s been a little later than usual). I think some arriving guests were slightly bemused to discover me peering into the tree and snipping off small twigs into a colander. Make sure the leaves are clean, dry and free of bits and insects.

When you’ve packed the leaves into the jar, pour in enough gin to cover them completely. You need to keep pressing the leaves down while you’re doing this, so that there are no air bubbles. We didn’t have quite enough gin to cover the leaves, so I also used the remains of a bottle of Dutch genever (similar, but this was vintage stuff so our friends in Holland may not have approved) and a bit of vodka.

Leave the mixture to steep for about two weeks. Then strain off the gin, which will have taken some colour from the leaves. Add about 350g (three quarters of a pound) of sugar, dissolved in 284ml (half a pint) of boiling water, to every 568ml (1 pint) of gin. Add a dash of brandy, mix it all up well and bottle when it is cold.

I left the resulting concoction to mature for a couple of weeks before trying it, and can report that it’s rather good - makes a great after dinner drink. It has a unique flavour, which I found slightly nutty (Mabey describes it as ‘a thickish, sweet spirit, mild and slightly oily to taste, like sake, but devastating in its effects!’). Definitely worth having a go.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Business networking opportunities in Exmoor and West Somerset

Running a small business can sometimes be rather isolating – especially for those who work from home. We are all so busy with our day to day work that we literally don’t get out much. However, it’s good to talk (as they say) with people in a similar situation – and that is not the only benefit of business networking. Through attending a few networking meetings, we have made some really good contacts, discovered new promotional channels for our guesthouse and got access to some very useful training. Here’s some information about two local networking groups of which we’re members.
Clara Lawrie - who runs the very informative West Somerset and Exmoor news and events website http://www.aboutmyarea.co.uk/Somerset/Minehead/TA24 - has been the driving force behind West Somerset Means Business, which started up in 2011 and is going from strength to strength. Local businesspeople meet once a month over breakfast at the Reading Room in Minehead. There is a visiting speaker and the opportunity for each person to briefly introduce themselves and their business to the rest of the group. For more details, and to book your place at the next breakfast meeting, email Maureen Smith: rismoch@hotmail.com
If you haven’t yet been to the Reading Room, then do give it a try. It’s a friendly café with a community ethos (e.g. books and crafts to buy, local information, internet access and a variety of events and courses): http://www.aboutmyarea.co.uk/Somerset/Minehead/TA24/Businesses/Cafes-and-Coffee-Shops/The-Reading-Room
Earlier this year, Elke Koessling-Winzer of CultureLine set up Exmoor4all, which aims – through extensive use of social media - to promote Exmoor as a wonderful place to visit. Part of this project is a scheme called the Exmoor Club, offering discounts and special deals across Exmoor to visitors and local residents alike. More details, including information on how you can get involved, at http://culturelineuk.wordpress.com/projects/ 
There are now also regular informal Exmoor4all TweetUps (i.e. face-to-face meetings of people who have ‘met’ on twitter) for local businesses, over coffee and biscuits at The Culbone, near Porlock: http://www.theculbone.com/ (a very good place for a spot of lunch, by the way).
Exmoor has a vibrant business community, supplying a huge variety of products and services. These kinds of get-togethers (both on and offline) give us all the opportunity to learn more about what other businesses do and explore ways we can work together. They are a great way to bring in new custom for ourselves while supporting other local organisations and at the same time promoting this beautiful area where we live. Everybody wins!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Discovering the Old Mineral Line, Brendon Hills, Exmoor

It seems hard to believe now, but the Brendon Hills on Exmoor were once a centre for iron mining. Whole settlements were constructed for miners and their families, although most of the houses and industrial buildings have since disappeared or remain only as ruins. There was also the West Somerset Mineral Railway (or Old Mineral Line), which was built to take iron ore to Watchet Harbour, ready to be shipped to Newport in South Wales.

The route of the old railway included the Incline, a very steep slope down which wagonloads of iron ore were lowered by means of cables; the empty wagons were hauled back up again. The remains of the Winding House, which housed the machinery for this, are by the side of the road near the Beulah Chapel, shortly after you turn down the road towards Wheddon Cross.

Beulah Chapel is interesting in itself. Standing at the road junction of the B3190 and the B3224 near Raleghs Cross, it is all that remains of a mining village where at one time several hundred people would have lived. The congregation were Bible Christians, a North Devon and Somerset splinter group of the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

Some suggested Old Mineral Line walks

From the car park just off the B3190 near Raleghs Cross, you can take a short walk through the woods to see the Incline, continuing if you like towards Comberrow and Roadwater.

At Chargot Woods, a few miles from Wheddon Cross, there are walks taking in the Bearland Flue chimney (which was, literally, a lifeline for the miners) and the former site of Langham Engine House.

There’s an easy walk between Washford and Watchet along the route of the Old Mineral Line. In the Market House Museum at Watchet you will find a lot of historical information and a fascinating collection of old photographs.

To discover more about this amazing chapter in Exmoor’s past, visit http://www.westsomersetmineralrailway.org.uk/welcome/

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Showing off!

I’ve been in the media recently, on behalf of Exmoor House. And, because I love to show off, I’m including the links here to a video and a podcast, both starring moi.

The video is a testimonial I did for telnames, the company from whom we bought our mobile website – www.exmoorhouse.tel  Of course, it promotes their services (which I find very good, as you’ll see if you watch the video) but it also includes some nice shots of our place and mini-tours of some of the rooms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjxcrru1iOA&feature=youtu.be

The podcast is by Walks Around Britain, and it includes an interview with me about walking on Exmoor. Here it is:

You can also download the podcast (and all the others they’ve done) free of charge to itunes. Walks Around Britain is an innovative video website; we’ll be working with them and West Country Walks shortly as they’re making a video about a walk on Exmoor near our place.

In the printed media, I did an interview for the February issue of Somerset Life magazine, as part of an article about Wheddon Cross and Snowdrop Valley. The magazine can we viewed here: http://somerset.greatbritishlife.co.uk/magazines/digital-archive/ (the article is on pages 52-53). And, late last year you may have spotted comments in the Guardian magazine, by Frank and me, about what it’s like to live on Exmoor: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/dec/14/lets-move-to-exmoor-somerset-devon

If you need an inexpensive, easy to edit mobile website, do check out http://www.telnames.com/ and for loads of useful info including walking routes in many different areas, see http://www.walksaroundbritain.co.uk/

I mentioned http://www.westcountrywalks.co.uk/ (also known as Combe Walks). They produce a range of excellent pocket-sized walking and cycling books covering North Devon and Somerset, and they also organise the Exmoor Walking Festival, which this year has a particularly good range of walks for all tastes and abilities. It starts on 27th April: http://www.exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk/

If any of this is making you feel that a visit to Exmoor is overdue, then we'd be delighted to see you! We've space for most dates at the moment, and there is even a special offer this month, if you hurry... take a look at our freshly-redesigned website for more details.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Snowdrop Valley 2013, Wheddon Cross, Exmoor, Somerset

Would you like to do something really special in February? How about a visit to Snowdrop Valley? It’s about a mile and a half from where we are and – as the name might suggest – is a place to see a host of snowdrops in a natural setting.
The snowdrops carpet the woodland floor and cover the banks of the river Avill, which flows through the valley. It’s a lovely, magical place at any time of year, whether or not it is the snowdrop season. You can walk from our place via a number of different routes, the quickest being straight down the winding path to the valley and back up again (aerobic exercise guaranteed; sensible footwear essential).

At snowdrops time, there is a park & ride bus service from Wheddon Cross, organised by our Parish Council. Parking is in the village car park (next to the pub), where there’s also a special information point with people to give directions and advice. The narrow road to Snowdrop Valley is closed during this time (otherwise there might be traffic problems as it’s single track and there are no passing places). So, you need to either walk or get the bus in order to see the snowdrops (people with disabilities can make special arrangements). In 2013 the park & ride operates from 2nd to 24th February and the road remains closed for an extra week after this.

For more details, including a bus timetable, an information leaflet to download and regular updates, visit the Wheddon Cross snowdrops page:
Book dinner, bed and breakfast at Exmoor House and make a few days of it. You could stay over Valentine’s Day for a really romantic break (we’ll even order champagne and local chocolates for you if you like!).

As usual, we’ll be opening our lovely guest dining room (which has a great view of Dunkery Beacon, and by the way was once the village tailor’s shop) as a tea room for the whole of Snowdrop Valley season. Frank’s scones have become legendary and there’s a good choice of more substantial food too (e.g. mega ploughman’s lunches, hot soup, sandwiches. Everything is of course home-made, including all our bread. Home-smoked chicken and real corned beef are two popular sandwich fillings…

The West Somerset Railway’s Snowdrops and Steam excursion was such a success last year that they’re running it on more dates this time. Find more information at
If you are doing the train trip and would like to have lunch here at Exmoor House, it may be advisable to book, especially if there are four or more of you.

I was going to include some of my Snowdrop Valley photos in this post, but can't get them to upload: so here's a link so you can see them on our facebook page: