What are your favourite pastimes? they said. Theatre, I said. Music, I said. History, I said. Books, art, opera, I said. Move to Exmoor, they said, and you’ll say goodbye to all of these. The only pastimes you’ll be able to do there are ones that involve mud! It’s a cultural void!
While mud is undeniably an important part of Exmoor life - and one that I am happily embracing twice a day in the company of a still growing Golden Retriever - the rest of that paragraph is palpably nonsense.
Nonsense that, to be fair, nobody really said to me. I made the entire thing up as a way of starting this piece of writing.
For nothing could be further than the truth.
In the year (and a bit) we’ve been here so far, I have experienced theatre both in Dulverton and at a garden theatre not a mile down the road (as well as in Bath and Bristol), two Two Moors Festivals with high-class classical music concerts in Dulverton and Wiveliscombe, a Deacon Blue gig in Plymouth (admittedly, not on Exmoor, but close enough), opera streamed live in Tiverton from The Met in New York, outstanding choral music from The East Devon Choral Society (I understand the bass section is particularly good - concert coming up, The Messiah, December 9th, St Peter’s Church in Tiverton, tickets available from the website), artists showcasing their work in various settings in the area. And that’s not to mention a lecture on the Minoan Civilisation as part of the Simonsbath Festival
And none of these involved mud at all! Except in the car park prior to (and after) some of the events.
And last weekend allowed us to tick off another cultural experience from the list. For last weekend was the Dulverton Exmoor Literary Festival. Authors and book lovers gathered in Dulverton for two days to celebrate books. Sir Michael Morpurgo, Rachel Johnson, Sarah Turner, Janet Ellis, William Sitwell, Julian Glover, Denis Coath, Hilary Bradt and a trio of local railways enthusiasts who talked brilliantly about the impact of the railway lines in the area, to name just a few.
This was no cultural void. If anything, for those who attended all the talks, it was something of a cultural overload.
An overload that wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of Ali Pegrum, at Visit Dulverton, who fully deserves a special mention here.
Vincent Van Gogh wrote, “I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”
There is a strong connection between nature and the arts and, given this idea, it should be no surprise that there is so much artistic endeavour happening around here. To live on Exmoor is definitely to live in nature. Like mud, Nature is an unavoidable part of life here.
Albert Einstein wrote, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” On one level, Einstein is pointing us towards the benefits of acquiring a deeper understanding of the natural world to enhance our scientific understanding of our lives. But he is also referencing a point about the benefits of nature to slow us down and make us think.
The science of all this is very clear. The evidence suggests that being in nature has an enormous effect on our brains and our behaviour, helping to reduce anxiety and increase creativity and attention span.
Researchers in Finland found that people who lived in a city but walked for twenty minutes a day in an urban park or wood reported much greater stress relief than those who walked for the same amount of time through the city centre.
Science is even beginning to point to the fact that being in nature makes us kinder and more generous.
In a study published in 2014 at The University of California, Berkeley, participants were exposed to scenes from nature (which had been independently rated for their beauty) and then they played two economics games to measure their generosity and trust. Those who had seen more beautiful natural scenes acted more generously and trustingly in the games.
Exmoor = Nature = Tranquility = Thinking = Creativity = Culture. The maths doesn’t lie! There is plenty of culture here and it’s little wonder - it is so beautiful!
With one Writing Retreat under our belts at Nutsford House, we’re now advertising a residential photography course here in early March 2024, a long weekend of photography workshops and walks on Exmoor, a chance to photograph the beauty of the landscape and its wildlife. Have a look at the webpage - https://www.nutsfordhouse.co.uk/general-clean - and perhaps you’ll join us to experience some nature and some culture!