Colourful map showing Exmoor and other Somerset towns and features Colourful map showing Exmoor and other Somerset towns and features Show image info

Map of Somerset by Speed 1676, ref: 0596

Exmoor Musings

Written in 2019 by a member of a creative writing class, through a collaboration between Bath Record Office and the St. John’s Foundation.

I read Lorna Doone years ago and, not knowing better, assumed it took place somewhere in the highlands of Scotland. What a surprise it was to discover the setting was extraordinary Exmoor in the more civilized wilds of Somerset.

My first actual encounter began with an exhilarating drive on a narrow, windy road sporting solid rock on one side of the car and a huge, mind numbing drop on the other. This might have been intimidating had I not already survived numerous trips on a similar road in Glacier Park in the Montana Rockies.

We parked the car and walked over Robbers Bridge, passing the petrified army of twisted trees that truly resembled Medieval solders. Their combative poses made them unknowingly eternal, as if transformed by an invisible witch.

I remember following sheep with unusually fluffy, individual faces, better looking than any other breed, as they danced over uneven ground. They seem to know where they were going not needing any dog to guide them to the mini waterfalls echoing in hidden alcoves, obscured by greenery.

Along the ever-twisting road encroached by trees, the Lorna Doone church was unmissable which vividly brought the long-ago novel back to life.

The entire area is magical. My friend, Veronica, my “native guide” as she jocularly referred to herself, had years ago adopted Exmoor as her special place. She insisted on planning the itinerary of every group visit and would often go there on her own.

When she died two years ago without relatives.  No designated next of kin saw fit to inform any of her friends of a funeral, depriving all of us the chance to say goodbye. In response my friend Jason and I decided to give her a special send off in the place she loved best.

We bought single roses in a nearby flower shop on the way. The shop owner was quite concerned, trying to sell us plant food to insure maximum survival for the flowers. We didn’t tell her that we planned to sacrifice them into the nearest Exmoor stream.

The journey through the narrow lane included several stops, looking for a likely place to say our “goodbyes.” We ruled out Robbers Bridge as being too public.

An early June rain was falling when we finally found the perfect, partially hidden spot that provided a small waterfall and a sanctuary for ducks. The alcove where we parked was only minutes away, but in that short space of time the shower had ended, and the sun was shining.

We walked carefully, picking our way down the rocky path leading to the water’s edge, noticing the sound of running water mingled with birdsong.

I recited the commemorative poem I’d written, and Jason did the same. Then we threw our roses into the river, watching as they floated out of sight.

Veronica was never religious, but we thought it might be a good idea to recite the Lord’s Prayer anyway. Then the sky seemed to provide the benediction. Looking up, we saw two rainbows crossing each other.

Now, whenever I think of Exmoor, I think of Veronica.

Elizabeth Derl-Davis, February – March 2019