I grew up in Somerset and I’ve always been very fond of Exmoor. When I started to expand on my collection of illustrated posters to include favourite places as well as British theatres, I was keen to highlight some of Exmoor’s “best bits”.
I’ve done four to date – with several more in the pipeline, I hope – such as Lynmouth, the funicular between Lynton and Lynmouth, Watersmeet, the South West Coast Path, and possibly Porlock, Porlock Weir, the Tarr Steps, and the Hunter’s Inn.
For those who don’t know this area – Exmoor is the perfect moor, as far as I am concerned. It combines the high, big-sky, free feeling that you get on the moors with the milder climate of the south-west, coastal walks, and easy access to cream teas, restaurants and pubs.
However, despite my fondness for Exmoor, I had never been to Selworthy until about a year ago. Selworthy is a hamlet on the Holnicote Estate a few miles west of Minehead. It’s not beside the sea but up in the hills with the coast a shortish hike away. Above Selworthy is Selworthy Beacon, one of the highest points on Exmoor.
Now this might make Selworthy sound like some kind of windy, wuthering heights sort of a place, but it’s not. It nestles in a combe, with trees and hills protecting it to the north, and with the landscape beautifully spread out before it.
Much of Selworthy was rebuilt in 1828 when the local lord decided to design a model village for the aged and infirm of his estate. The result was some beautiful thatched cottages, painted yellow, with gardens and lawns between them. It has very much the feel of an outdoor film set. One of the houses is now a tea room and another an art gallery. You can also visit the church, which is handsome and has wonderful views across the countryside, or set off on one of the many walking trails through the Holnicote Estate (now owned by the National Trust). One path leads up to Selworthy Beacon. Others take you to the nearest beach or through the countryside to the next village (the equally pretty Allerford). It feels like stepping back in time to at least the 1700s, in many ways. You would never imagine you were only three miles from Minehead.
I wanted to do a general poster to represent Exmoor. To me the main features are the upland plants – especially heather; the fact Exmoor is beside the sea; and the famous Exmoor ponies. I would have liked to have got the long distance South West Coast Path in there as well – but that will have to be for another illustration. The ponies were tricky. This is the first time I had tried to do animals in this “poster” style. Previously, I have sketched or painted horses using pencil, ink, pastel, gouache and oils – but this style is totally different. It was hard to avoid the temptation to add more detail or movement – which wouldn’t work for a poster. A railway-style poster like this is about simplification, really, I think – to get the character and atmosphere of a place in a bold but clean way.
Since this poster I have drawn several other poster illustrations with foreground animals and am hopefully getting better at it.
As it happened, all these images went up on this website and the Etsy shop at different times. I knew I wanted to have a collection of Exmoor prints but quite often the printer order is initiated either by running out of stock of a particular image and size, or by a customer asking for a new design (often within quite a tight timeframe). So I’m trying to send the printer a decent number of images to print (as this is more economic, particularly on delivery) but I need to get the order in pretty quickly. For this reason, I’ve never really had the luxury of getting a whole cohesive suite of images ready to send off to the printer and then putting them in front of the public as a collectable set. Instead, it gradually evolves.
The next of the Exmoor images was Dunster. I love Dunster! Great name, great place!
I feel Dunster should be better known than it is. It is a lovely old village overlooked by a castle of fairytale attractiveness – and it’s on the edge of Exmoor.
It seemed to me that the important features that should be in this image was the old Yarn Market (which is a very memorable feature of the village) and, of course, the castle.
I’ve been to Dunster many times. On one memorable occasion, someone was playing Debussy’s Clair de lune in the main hall of the castle as visitors were wandering about. That tune is such a fantastic accompaniment to the view out of the window of treetops below and birds flying amongst them, as if we were the last humans left in a world gone back to nature.
The latest poster …
The latest poster to date in the Exmoor collection (new in March 2023, folks!) is the Valley of the Rocks.
One of the reasons I love Lynton/Lynmouth so much is that it has so many attractions – the funicular, the harbour, the architecture, the moors, the river, and this – just out of Lynton – the Valley of the Rocks.
Along the coast road out of the small town of Lynton are a series of strange rock formations. The road is a very quiet and narrow one, with a few wider spots for tourists to park if they haven’t simply walked along from Lynton. There are always tourists here, but never so many that the place loses its peaceful charm. Footpaths go up and around the craggy hillocks – some of them slightly nerve-wracking ones between the Rocks and the cliff edge. There are great views along the coast here. There are also wild goats, chomping away on some incredible precipices. They’ve been here on and off for thousands of years.
Naturally, I decided to include goats on my print and I hope the illustration gives a good sense of this remarkable spot. Either Lynmouth Harbour or Watersmeet next in this series, I suspect.