An Exmoor September

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Tangled wood: Horner, one of England’s largest oak forests.

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Coming down like the wolf on the fold, cohorts gleaming purple and gold…

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Church of All Saints, Selworthy. A gleaming monument from across the valley, an iced confection when face-to-face.

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A little too much confection for some, but it’s too pure not to be enjoyed…

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Exmoor is even more special because the ugly signage frenzy has yet to reach it. Black and white metal-embossed roadsigns abound, as do National Trust signs of the same vintage – beautiful, timeless lettering and craftmanship.

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Or this plaque on a seat at Webbers Post, originally a viewpoint once used by a local huntsman to watch his hounds.

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Memento Mori in Stoke Pero churchyard, although he didn’t follow his wife so soon, having another 20 years in which to wander free…

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Now to savour the time-worn signwriter’s art. Make the most of it while it lasts…

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Gwydir and William Morgan

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Gwydir Castle in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. It was rescued and restored privately in the 1980s, and even on the rainiest of days (as above) has a magical atmosphere. Peacocks rustle and rush around trees planted for Charles I and Henrietta Maria, in a way that will send a gentle shiver down the spine of anyone familiar with The Children of Green Knowe. 

Inside, log fires crackle and reflect on time-polished oak, and you can wander the 1600s without being tripped up or banged on the head with interpretation at every turn. I can’t imagine opportunities to experience this type of historic building undisturbed will be around for much longer.

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William Morgan, who translated the bible into Welsh in the sixteenth century, was educated at Gwydir when a child. At Ty Mawr, the tiny farmhouse where he was born, there’s interpretation which is just right… the National Trust guide is one of the best I’ve ever come across, needing only his words to vividly recreate the world into which Morgan was born, and as much a part of the land as the farmhouse itself.

North Wales Festival of Britain Guide

Wordsworth on the rise

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In the garden at Dove Cottage, Grasmere – Wordsworth’s humble, rented abode where we were told Coleridge would walk over from Keswick, arriving at midnight, at which point Dorothy Wordsworth would rustle up a quick fried steak in the kitchen. All I remember from a look at her journal long ago was that she seemed to go about ‘washing her head’ a lot. However, I’m happy to hear that there’s now a growing narrative around her in which she’s gaining perhaps a hint of Plath-like tragedy. Despite this, I’m unable to shake an image of a slightly put-upon seventies-era Coronation Street character, with toothache.

I might not have remembered this that well, but I think these were decorated by one of Wordsworth’s servants. The finest decorated eggs I’ve ever seen…

Despite the recent image of Wordsworth as counter-culture beatnik type, a visit to his homes suggests a more conventional merging with the mainstream. There was a steady rise from the humble cottage to Allen Bank, a newly-built villa-style property across the water, and then on to the ‘rather lovely’ Rydall Mount, where it seems he rested on his laurels. So a literal clamber up the bank to the summit, with a Government post at £400 a year on the way.

Allen Bank is now open and the National Trust are presenting it as salvaged from a recent fire, welcoming everyone with cups of tea and inviting them to choose wallpaper and fabric for stripped and prepared rooms. There are lots of great little Post-it notes with suggestions, and also some wonderful pomposity in the additions from characters who sign their contributions ‘RIBA’ (Royal Institute of British Architects). Presumably this is so that we will all realise the weight of their considerations: Maureen from Scarborough and the others will just have to get back in their place and realise on a later visit that their comments are simply the work of domestic novices.

The view from the window above was a favourite of Dorothy Wordsworth’s apparently – she called it a ‘paradise on earth’ or something similar. That didn’t convince me she was a 19th-century Plath either.

These last two images are from a chapel in the grounds of Allen Bank. The Magic Lantern Cinema and Restaurant sounds fantastic. I hope it was housed in the chapel – a couple of wine glasses in the ruins suggest so. Perhaps it was a cross between chicken-in-a-basket and Cinema Paradiso. It won’t be a ruin for long as the chapel is a candidate for restoration fairly soon. I love the chickenwire and the lamenting character in the window though…