Category Archives: Exmoor

Porlock Arts Festival 2011

I realised that I never got around to writing properly about Porlock Arts Festival 2010. I left you on tenterhooks relating to Germaine Greer’s talk of life and feminism (or feminine as the local paper would have it) and how she flirted with my husband but wrote me and my sister-in-law off completely but then I never came back and told you anything about it. Well, perhaps that moment has passed, although I will try and review it later this month. Suffice to say, Porlock is now gearing up for the 2011 festival and I have been sent some initial details.

This year the festival is being held on 8-11 September and so far the following has been annouced:

“Thursday 8th September is Explorers’ Evening!  Local author and keen Festival supporter Sir Christopher Ondaatje will open the evening discussing his new book The Last Colonial: Curious Adventures and Stories from a Vanishing World, as well as his discovery of the secrets of short story writing.  He will be followed by Stanley Johnson, author and former MP, whose family has farmed on Exmoor for 60 years.  He will tell of his recent climb up Mt Kilamanjaro in aid of the Gorilla Organization which raises funds to save gorillas in Africa.  He will also discuss his new book Survival: Saving Endangered Migratory Species.  His appearance in 2009 went down extremely well and we are very pleased to have him back at the Arts Festival.

On Friday 9th September we have the New Scorpion Band, one of the best traditional music groups around today.  Their repertoire includes ballads and close harmony songs, instrumental tunes, poetry, stories and folk drama.  They will perform their programme John Barleycorn is Dead which is a musical celebration of farming and the land and includes several folk songs collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset – John Barleycorn, Bridgwater Fair and the Sheep-shearing Song amongst others!

On Saturday 10th September we have an amazing trio of contemporary writers – Ali Smith, Philip Hensher and Jackie Kay

     *Ali Smith’s first book Free Love and Other Stories was published in 1995.  Her second novel Hotel World (2001) was short-listed for both the Orange and the Booker Prize for Fiction.  Her latest book There But For The is to be published in June 2011.  She is a regular contributor of articles and reviews to newspapers and journals.
     *Philip Hensher is the author of several novels and short stories and he wrote the libretto for Thomas Ades’ opera Powder Her Face.  His novel The Northern Clemency was short-listed for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.  He has recently published a new novel King of the Badgers.  He is a regular broadcaster and contributor to newspapers and journals.
     *Jackie Kay published her first volume of poems The Adoption Papers in 1991.  She has since published several more collections and her poetry has appeared in many anthologies.  Her first novel Trumpet was published in 1998.  She has also published collections of short stories, and works for children.  Her Maw Broon Monologues were short-listed for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry and the autobiographical The Red Dust Road featured as Radio 4’s Book of the Week earlier this year.  She also writes widely for stage and television.

In addition to the regular Festival features – Glenthorne Literary Museum, the Poetry Picnic, the Art Exhibitions and Open Studios, the competitions and the pub quiz – there will be another Local Authors’ Day following on from the successful event in 2010.  And there will be some new events too including an all-ages Choral Workshop and a Sunday afternoon Tea Dance.”

It all sounds extremely interesting and I am looking forward to further details being released in due course.

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SB Review: Ways of Seeing, Churchgate Gallery (Porlock)

Paper Works by Toni Davey

Almost a year since they opened and a first gallery exhibition for the Churchgate Gallery in Porlock. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several of their artist events over the last year but I think this is the first exhibition where all of the other work was removed and each artist given their own space. It worked well.

Billed as ” an exhibition of three artists exploring visions of reality and imagination through space, line and materials” the enormous fairytale like structures of Rob Heard were juxtaposed against Toni Davey’s precise laser cut lines with a healthy dose of twee like reality coming from Paul Askew’s black and white paintings taken from his own photography.

I was most taken with Toni Davey’s precise lines, created by laser cuts, creating light and shadow and lifting the two dimensional paper into a third dimension. She appeared to have architectural precision and the works created a calm middle room between the two other styles.

Heard’s fairy tale structures were impressive. I could see them more as a set dressing or permanent installation in a gallery rather than a piece to take home so it was nice to see a local gallery showing things just for the pleasure of showing a piece rather than simply to sell. The structures were taller than me and smelt appealing of modelling wood. They appeared to grow out of what appeared to be driftwood, as if they had been dreamt there rather than created.

Askew’s paintings were evocative to me because many were of London, home to my old life. They made the underground and the sites of London look rather like a black and white film or an old fashion photograph. They too had a slightly fairytale quality and rather gave the impression of a rainy November evening, which is how I fondly remember my time in London, rather as if through rain tinted neon glasses. I enjoyed looking at his images but somehow rather more suited to a greetings card than my wall.

We attended the opening evening of the exhibition which was buzzing. It is a pleasure to have such a lovely gallery so close to where we live and I very much enjoyed the evening. Once again the canapes were excellent, as were the drinks. Well worth a visit if you are in Porlock.

Ways of Seeing: An exhibition of 3 Artists (29 May – 12 June 2011)

Churchgate Gallery

High Street Porlock Somerset TA24 8PT T: 01643 862238
E: churchgategallery@live.co.uk W: www.churchgategallery.co.uk

Open daily 10.00 – 5.00

*image from Churchgate Gallery

SB Review: Late Night Shopping, Porlock

It was late night shopping in Porlock this past Saturday evening. Based on our experiences of Dunster By Candlelight the weekend before we thought perhaps that it might be another slightly overpriced but enjoyable as an isolated event. Turns out it was a community effort to get as drunk as possible, shopping was optional.

We started the evening at the Churchgate Gallery with a glass of mulled wine as we surveyed the beautiful collection of paintings, prints, ceramics and gifts. We had received a gorgeous Christmas card from them earlier in the week entitled “The Big Mince Pie Heist” enclosing an invitation to the evening and so we were keen to attend. We bought our Christmas cards from the same range as the mince pie heist – ours are called “Not Just for Christmas” from a drawing by Jonathan Walker.

Our next stop was the florist – The Garden Room – which sells all manner of garden accessories as well as being a florist. The owner, Jackie, also has a local produce stand from which we shopped all summer and sells seeds in beautiful paper packets which I cannot resist along with natural wax candles in terracotta pots which I used in the summer. This Christmas, I was hankering after a wreath for our front door. In my six years in London I had never had a front door upon which I could hang such a thing and I was determined for our first year in the countryside we would have one. I investigated making my own but decided that, for the first year, I would buy one and then I would have a florist ring and a moss hoop which I could use year on year to come. At a very reasonable priced £7.50 we found a simple holly and moss one with a red ribbon bow.  Jackie was offering home made chestnut and cranberry sausage rolls and some kind of alcoholic hot punch. Fortified, we continued our progress…

…to the butchers, Clive Downs, where we drank fizz and ate game and redcurrant sausages hot from the oven and discussed geese and bought ham and ran into various people we knew. We drank these drinks whilst watching the Watchet Town Band playing christmas songs at the Exmoor Classic Car Collection where life sized beef eaters sneered at the trombone players and an ice queen and king on stilts watched from above.

And then to my actual point of this post: we followed the ice queen and king back up the High Street towards the church (they cut a rather lonely figure – 9 foot tall, hand in hand, ice white and silver in the darkness) and found Green Dolphin Crafts. This is a charming shop essentially in the front room of a darling little cottage with the most lovely of bay windows. Run with a hippy like vibe it is stocked with interesting silver and gem stone jewellery, woollen garments, silk underwear and night wear, and delight of delight, hand made beeswax candles. The beams are so low that my husband had to stoop and the fire so entrancing and warm that we might have stayed there all evening had not other customers wished to crowd in too. I bought 4 votives and a pair of taper candles and was even able to pay by cheque. As we paid, another customer was voicing her delight at the embroidered cushion covers and the owner was explaining that they had one day simply decided to use the front of the house/cottage as a shop. It was an utterly delightful place and well worth a visit if you are ever in Porlock.

Green Dolphin Crafts

High Street, Porlock

TA24 8PT

(not sure of opening times – call 01643 862868)

The Garden Room

High Street, Porlock

TA24 8PU

(not sure of opening times, closed Sundays – call 01643 863547)

 

The Big Mince Pie Heist is by Jonathan Walker and sold by Sally Mitchell Fine Arts Limited

SB Review: Horse & Crook, Dunster

Last Saturday we went to Dunster by Candlelight*. Always held the first weekend of December, Dunster by Candlelight is a pleasant way to see the village and indulge in a spot of (Christmas) shopping at the same time. The title is only slightly misleading – there are quite a few candle lanterns – and almost all of the shops are open late. We saw a medieval procession – wassailing I think, although I might have mistaken this fire lit procession for something else – and a samba drum band and drank many cups of mulled wine with brandy. We also snuck into the castle and admired the decorations and wall paintings and enjoyed the medieval style craft market in the cobbled stables area.

Dunster, for those not aware, is a medieval village with age-old cobbled streets and an old yarn market in the middle. Both sides of the main street leading up to the castle are filled with a variety of little shops. Including Horse & Crook. Which is a darling little find, filled with an ever-changing selection of vintage and hand-made home and garden accessories as well as being a florist. I always make a beeline for Horse & Crook whenever we visit Dunster and not just because they have a beautiful dog called Maisie who is always interested in some attention.

Horse & Crook was the first place I have found down here which sells only natural candles (usually plant or soy wax in this case) in taper dinner candles as well as pillar and votives. They also have, in the winter, a beautiful selection of handknitted gloves and wrist warmers, soaps and body butter. It is an excellent place for present shopping and they are, again, the only place in the south-west, so far as I have found, to sell my beloved V V Rouleaux ribbon. I have been known to buy reels of garden twine in shades of russet and stormy blue for no other reason than they looked so beautiful.

Barely anything in the shop is pre-packaged. My lovely white plant wax candles came tied in a scrap of velvet ribbon and were then wrapped in tissue paper and handed over in a recycled paper bag. Ribbon comes on card or wooden reels; soap in paper parcels. A beautiful shop and one that I can never leave empty-handed.

They also have a website, for those whom Dunster is perhaps too far away to pop over one afternoon. The selection on the website is in no way representative of the collection at the shop and seems a little too handmade, but perhaps that is all part of the charm.

Horse & Crook

High Street, Dunster

Mon-Sat 10.30-5.00
Sun 11.00-4.00

(Image borrowed from Horse & Crook website)

*My top tip for Dunster by Candlelight is to leave your car in either Minehead, Porlock or Watchet and get the park and ride buses. We walked down to the bus so, for once, both of us could drink as much mulled wine as we fancied without worrying about the return journey. We also only realised that the Tithe Barn was open right at the end of the evening – the beautiful church of St George also has candlelit carols at various points which we discovered too late to enjoy. A programme is available (although at £1 we opted not to purchase) and this might have been useful if “not missing things” was the theme of our evening. It wasn’t, as it happened, so we didn’t mind.

Christmas Trees

If you, like me, wondered where to get a Christmas tree in the West Somerset area, you could do worse than getting one from the Crown Estate, Dunster, who sells locally grown trees at Dunster Woodland Products (also known locally as Minehead Saw Mill). The trees are all grown just down the road and we bought a lovely little one for a very reasonable price.

After all, if you eat locally it stands to reason your tree purchasing should be local too.

SB Review: Piggy in the Middle (Porlock)

There are many things that I miss about London. I thought restaurants would be one of them but there is a surprisingly good selection of places to eat to choose from down here. We are slowly attempting to try out them one by one.

Surrounded by pubs and hotels, Piggy in the Middle is situated bang in the middle of Porlock, along the stretch of ‘high street’ which is lit up by pretty little lights and looks so welcoming as you come down the hill and through the village.  On Exmoor we are lucky to have a fantastic selection of local produce being both on the moor and coastal. We have organic produce everywhere we turn and thankfully Piggy in the Middle serves up yummy dishes full of local food.

Fine dining it’s not. The house wine comes in a carafe, the napkins are black linen, it’s a little faux french in decoration and the coffee is less than desirable but the food is nicely cooked and the service is friendly. Too many viewings of Masterchef and Junior Roux have led me to notice things like plate choice, symmetry and style of the food and precisely how acidic the beurre blanc is yet what really matters on a Thursday night when you book with ten minutes notice is that the food is cooked by someone who knows how to choose their ingredients. We shared a prawn, rice and salad dish and a herb and tomato crusted salmon fillet with a sticky toffee pudding and felt satisfyingly full but not overstuffed. The chef came out to speak to us and there was a happy atmosphere.

Not somewhere to go on a first date but an enjoyable place to have a casual supper.

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Piggy in the Middle
High Street
Porlock
Exmoor National Park, Somerset
TA24 8PS

Crabbing at Porlock Weir

One wet Tuesday evening we went crabbing at Porlock Weir. Winding our lines down into the murky water with bits of bacon attached to temp the crabs up and into a bucket for no particular purpose other than it was a fun way to pass the evening. And then suddenly, the sun came out and we were bathed in glorious sunshine….

Something to remember in the darkening days of September, where I turned round and the indian summer had gone. Where the air has such a chill to it that the cottage is damp and I need a torch to find the gate again when I come home after work.