Tag Archives: country life

Design the official Exmoor flag!

BqKwBNJIUAA5MWrDo you have a creative streak? Do you want to see one of your designs out there for all to see? Then you absolutely must enter the Exmoor Flag Competition, which is calling on everyone the UK over to come up with a design for the first official flag for Exmoor and show just how much they love this little corner of the world.

Free to enter, the competition has been devised as a way of honouring the 60th anniversary of the designation of the Exmoor National Park this year, with entry forms and hints and tips for your design to be found on the Exmoor Flag Project website.

What a great opportunity to really show your appreciation for Exmoor, which we here at the Two Moors Festival think is one of the most special places in the world to live, work and visit. Let us know if you plan to enter – and let us know just why you love Exmoor so much!


Vaughan Williams home finally reopens to public

Leith-hill-place_1521225iWe’re very happy here at the Two Moors Festival that Leith Hill Place, once home to acclaimed classical music composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, has finally reopened to the public after nearly half a century.

The gorgeous 17th-century property will be open over the summer and through the autumn and is an absolute must-visit for any music fan – or indeed anyone with an interest in history, the great outdoors and lots of beautiful things. You’ll find a truly stunning aspect when you visit, with lots of trees, a lime avenue and even a ha-ha (a turfed ditch with a sloped side that was originally intended to keep grazing livestock off the lawn while providing an uninterrupted view of the garden from the house).

If it’s a clear day, you absolutely must climb up the Leith Hill Tower, the highest point on the Surrey Hills. If you look north through the telescope you can see the clock face of Big Ben in Westminster and you’ll have sweeping views across 14 counties!

Some of the most influential families in the UK have called Leith Hill Place home, including Wedgwood as well as Vaughan Williams. Charles Darwin, a close personal friend of the Wedgwood clan, also stayed at the house frequently and you can still find his worm-stone in the grounds of the estate so keep a look out for that one.

Leith Hill was last open to the public in the 60s, when the Wedgwoods used a few of its rooms to display lots of pottery and a doll’s house. Make sure you take advantage of this move by the National Trust – you never know when it might be open again!

A Ramble along the River Barle

devonlandacre_bridge_midAs long-term followers of the Two Moors Festival will know, a walk through the beautiful countryside of the south-west has become a regular feature of the festival’s main two-week event in October – and 2013 is certainly no exception!

After enjoying lots and lots of classical music from October 16th to 19th, you can have a very well-earned respite on the 20th by going on a very energetic hike over Exmoor, from Withypool, along the River Barle and back over Winsford Hill, joining local expert on moorland flora and fauna Jeremy Holtom to find out all you can about the area.

While we can’t guarantee the weather, we can guarantee that you’ll have a lovely time. The Exmoor National Park is one of the most beautiful to be found in England. It has virtually no light pollution, no telegraph poles – in fact, many places on the top of the moor still don’t have mains electricity (after all Barkham, the Two Moors Festival HQ, was only connected to the grid in 2001!).

If the sun does deign to shine on all us happy walkers, you can see all the way across to Wales, Dartmoor and Westward Ho! from the top of the highest point at Dunkery Beacon (certainly a sight you need to behold at once in your lifetime) – and one of the best times to go for a walk is in winter, when the hedgerows sparkle with delightful hoar frost.

We’ll be meeting at the Royal Oak in Withypool on the 20th at 14:00 for a lovely four-mile stroll, so please do come along if you can. Hopefully it won’t be raining – and you’ll certainly build up a nice hearty appetite for the evening concert in Dulverton. which is a chamber music recital given by The Busch Ensemble.

So – who can’t wait until October?

The Fascination of Astronomy Made Clear

newsYou may have heard that the theme of this year’s Two Moors Festival main two-week event in October is light – a theme that was chosen after artistic director Penny Adie saw the effects of light streaming through some stained glass.

In keeping with this interesting idea – if you’ve got your brochure for this year’s festival, you’ll certainly be impressed by how the different artists have interpreted the theme – a talk is being given at the Yarn Market Hotel in Dunster by Douglas Rice, chairman of the Tiverton and Mid Devon Astronomy Society since its foundation in 1985, on the dark skies of Exmoor.

The night skies above this part of the world are the stuff of legend – and were recently designated the very first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe, so you know that it’s one of the best places to go for a spot of star-gazing. If you’re thinking of going, then you might want to head to Brendon Two Gates, Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Haddon Hill, Webbers Post and Wimbleball Lake, all of which are particularly good. On a clear night, you can see lots of astronomical sights just by the naked eye – and you can see a whole lot more with a pair of binoculars.

If astronomy is of interest, you definitely don’t want to miss this revealing talk. It takes place at lunchtime on October 24th, with coffee and shortbread when you get to the hotel and a lunch of chicken chasseur or spinach and ricotta canelloni if you pre-book. Entry is free by ticket only so make sure you phone the festival box office on (01643) 831 006 if you’d like to go.

The Calvert Trust

Smith-Family-April-11_croppedIf you’ve received your brochure for this year’s Two Moors Festival main two-week event in October, you’ll have seen that the concert kicking off proceedings this time is a charity concert given by one of the best big bands in Britain – the Callum Au Big Band – in aid of our work in rural areas, the Barnstaple Samaritans and the Calvert Trust Exmoor.

The Calvert Trust is a truly brilliant charity that gives people with learning, physical and sensory disabilities the chance to experience exhilarating and enjoyable activities right in the heart of the Devon countryside. Located right on the edge of the Exmoor National Park and just a short distance from the beautiful North Devon coast, the trust offers a huge range of activities, including horse riding, climbing, sailing, canoeing, cycling, archery and abseiling to name but a few!

Some of the comments from past visitors are testament to the truly valuable work the trust does. “I was with the Midland Heart group that was with you last week, I had an amazing few days doing activities which, at the age of nearly 87, I didn’t think would be possible! It was a wonderful experience, but even more so I was tremendously inspired to see disadvantaged & disabled  people, some of them severely so, participating and succeeding in these challenges,” Rene Hayes remarked.

We’re so pleased to be able to support the Calvert Trust Exmoor in any way we can and hope that you all thoroughly enjoy the Callum Au Big Band concert. It’s taking place on October 16th from 19:30 at St Peter’s and St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Barnstaple. The programme includes pieces by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, so it promises to be a very exciting show indeed. Ticket prices are by donation from £15 to £28 and you can read an interview with Callum Au himself on our blog here, where he talks more about what what they’ll be playing.

If you’d like to book tickets, please contact the festival box office on (01643) 831 006.

Figgy the festival cat

We’re very sorry to have to tell all you Two Moors Festival fans that our dear little cat Figaro (Figgy to his friends) has died. If you ever came to visit the festival headquarters down in Devon, you’ll no doubt have come across his soppy little black self curled up on a plush cushion on a huge chair (much too big for a cat!) by the Aga.

He was very much loved, dividing his time fairly equally between sleeping in a little ball, crawling around the plates and saucers in the cupboards of our huge dresser in the kitchen and being dive-bombed by house martins while out and about in the garden. He was pretty dim for a cat but the most loving animal we could have asked for – and we’re very proud to say that he made it to the ripe old age of 17… excellent going for a cat!

Although we’ll miss him always, we’re not ones to dwell on these things and, because we’ve always had cats and our home seems very empty without them, we’re now very happy to say we’ve got a new crazy little kitten – called Falstaff!

He’s another black and white, and we know he’s a keeper because he shows absolutely no fear whatsoever of festival German Shepherd Flora. Here are a couple of snaps of the new addition to our family. We hope you can come down to Devon to meet him very soon!

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What to do in Devon: Dartmoor’s Miniature Pony Centre

Pic: Richard AustinOne of the reasons we set up the Two Moors Festival back in 2001 was to bring people back to Devon after the horrors of foot and mouth and give people a chance to not only listen to some amazing music not often heard outside the traditional concert halls but also to give them the opportunity to explore this part of the world and see just what it has to offer.

One attraction we’ve just discovered is one we think a lot of you out there would love to visit – Dartmoor’s Miniature Pony Centre. We’ve just heard that a new horse has been born called Sorrel – and she’s only 50cm tall! Now that’s a sight worth seeing, we’re sure you’ll all agree!

Sorrel’s just one of six little foals running about in the park, joining Tamarynd, Schwartz, Rosemary, Pimento and Samphire. The centre itself – in Moretonhampstead – has lots more to offer than just the sweetest horses on earth. There are 20 acres of countryside to explore, an aviary and a pets’ paddock where you can meet even more animals. If you’ve got children, don’t leave them behind – there are also horse rides they can take so a fun day out for all!

The classic tale of the £1 bathroom suite

At the Two Moors Festival headquarters here in North Devon, we put on a lot of concerts and residencies, with countless musicians passing through our doors every year. Luckily, we used to run a holiday cottage and B&B business at Barkham so we have enough room to accommodate them all (most of the time!), but after 20 years, a bit of an update in Old Copse – one of the cottages – has been required.

We needed to give the bathroom a bit of a facelift, as the Pearl Suite (as we called it) was a leftover from the days of the previous owner, so can be dated at least as far back as 1987. We know how hard all the musicians who come down here work and how much they deserve a bit of a wind down at the end of the day, and a bath you can’t even stand up in because it’s under the stairs just wouldn’t cut it any more.

So John, festival fundraiser, decided to take matters into his own hands and headed to the internet and eBay to see what he could find. And he really did come up trumps, finding a very nice cream suite for the princely sum of – wait for it… – £1.04!

Another fun festival story to tell around the dinner table!

North Devon NOT included in best places to live list!

We couldn’t believe our eyes when we scanned the Sunday Times’s list of best places to live in the UK earlier this month – and found that North Devon was left off the list completely!

Now, we know that our little corner of the world won’t suit everyone (not such a bad thing, really, as hordes of people coming to live around here would certainly see it lose its appeal as a quiet and peaceful getaway destination!), but it was a bit of a shock to see that it hadn’t managed to impress the Sunday Times set sufficiently to be included.

We really couldn’t imagine a better place for the Two Moors Festival HQ to be situated and love the surrounding countryside and how diverse it is. We’ve got beautiful woods, forests and moors right on our doorstep, while the coast is just a short drive away. We just have to take our pick between Saunton, Braunton, Ilfracombe, Porlock… spoilt for choice really!

The lucky places that did make the cut are:

Wadebridge, in Cornwall

Topsham in Exeter, South Devon

Totnes in South Devon

Thornbury in Bristol

Bruton in Somerset

Sherborne in Dorset

Truro in Cornwall

Beaminster in Dorset

Oddington in Oxfordshire

Tisbury in Wiltshire

Wells, Somerset

Tetbury in Gloucestershire

Where do you think the best place to live is and why?

West Buckland School’s dreaded Exmoor Run

The abominable weather that has been buffeting the Two Moors Festival’s front door these past few weeks, you really wouldn’t blame anybody for deciding to bunker down with a hot water bottle strapped to their tummy, their feet tucked up in big fluffy slippers and a hot toddy clutched firmly in their grasp.

What you wouldn’t really expect is for them to don their gym knickers, pull on their trainers and go for a nine-mile run up hill and down dale across the North Devon countryside. Which is what the (some may say, abjectly cruel!) organisers of The Exmoor – West Buckland School’s annual cross-country run, and the longest in England – made their poor students do earlier last week.

I’m a former pupil of West Buckland and can tell you for a fact that, apart from a few hardcore fans, The Exmoor – which has been going strong for 150 years – is one of the most dreaded dates on the entire school calendar. From the moment classes begin in September, everyone’s busy trying to think up believable excuses to get out of it, but since it involves the whole school and if everyone called in sick it would look a bit suspicious, you somehow find yourself at the starting line every year, freezing in your house singlet and wishing you went to school in the Sahara.

It’s only the lucky few who don’t find themselves running (or, let’s face it, strolling) The Exmoor year in, year out. I recall one friend of mine successfully got out of it when, after walking the six miles to the starting line, one of the teachers drove over his foot with the school bus! The worst bits are undoubtedly running through the river (do not envy them, having had to do so this year!) and trying to scale The Cleave – a notoriously steep bit of hillside.

Tough The Exmoor certainly is – and I really didn’t relish the prospect of doing it every year. But there’s really nothing quite like crossing that finish line after nine miles of hell on earth and knowing that you’ve survived one of the toughest, longest and most excruciating runs going. Like a lot of things at school, you hate ’em at the time but come to appreciate them later (sometimes much, much later) down the line. I’m very grateful that by the time I got to West Buckland School, they’d reduced the number of cross-country runs from 15 to one but I still smile with pride when I think of the year I came ninth!