Hope Bourne: An exhibition

Self-sufficiency is becoming increasingly attractive to many people in the UK and around the world, with the cost of living being pushed higher every day and unemployment threatening to derail even the best laid plans.

It’s certainly not a new concept, particularly for people in rural areas who have the space to keep their own livestock and grow their own vegetables. One person who saw the benefits of becoming self-sufficient early on – and who has become synonymous with Exmoor and a country way of life – is Hope Bourne, about whom an exhibition has just been set up by The Exmoor Society at Porlock Visitor Centre.

Born in North Devon in 1920 – although she always claimed to have lost her birth certificate and was unsure of her age herself – Hope was the daughter of a headmistress at a village school in Elmscott. In her 30s, her mother died and with her Hope’s only source of income. Her house was sold to settle some debts and, with no training, qualifications and precious little money, Hope decided to become as self-sufficient as she could.

She moved to Exmoor, where she lived off the land, hunting, gathering wood for fuel and growing her own vegetables, as well as earning a small amount by helping farmers tend their stock. In the 50s and 60s, she claimed to live on just £5 a month! She believed that hunting and farming were the defining characteristics of Exmoor, living in an old touring caravan just above Sherdon Water for 20 years or so and getting up at 05:00 to tend livestock, write in her journal and go for a 20-mile walk – without a map!

Hope  – who died in August 2010, aged 91 – also taught herself to paint and draw, and dedicated much of her time to writing. Her first book – Living on Exmoor – was published in 1963 and is a month-by-month account of her life, complete with her own pen and ink illustrations.

It is this book that is the focus of the exhibition in Porlock, which opened on June 17th and will be in situ until September 17th. It is a precursor to a much bigger exhibition at the Dulverton Heritage Centre to be opened in 2013, designed to celebrate Hope’s life and work.

“The selection demonstrates Hope’s extraordinary talent as an artist. She will also be remembered for her fine writing, her determination to be independent and for her immense courage in living and surviving in the wild. She identified herself physically and emotionally with the moor, following a way of life which almost attained self-sufficiency,” Kate McLaughlin, in charge of the display in Porlock, was quoted by the Western Morning News as saying.

Porlock’s exhibition isn’t the only event taking place this year, honouring the legacy Hope left behind. If you’re interested in finding out more about this intriguing woman and her chosen way of life, the Exmoor Society is putting on an anniversary walk on August 22nd, covering some of her favourite routes. The hike starts at Withypool at 11:00, taking in Landacre and Ferny Ball.

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