A couple of weeks ago I visited the Exmoor Society’s exhibition, Hope Bourne’s Exmoor, in Dulverton. Hope died in August 2010, aged 91, leaving her entire estate of books, paintings, letters and other memorabilia to the Exmoor Society.
Hope Lilian Bourne was born on 26 August 1918 in Oxford. She first knew Exmoor as a child when her mother took up the post of headmistress at Bishops Tawton School near Barnstaple in North Devon. Hope lived most of her life on Exmoor. She had little income and survived by occupying a tiny, leaking caravan at Ferny Ball above Sherdon Water and living off the land. She was out on the moor in all weather, shooting for the pot, watching wildlife and making pen and ink drawings. She wrote a weekly column in the West Somerset Free Press. She was proud never to have taken a penny of public money.
She became involved with the Exmoor Society shortly after its formation in 1958, and was an early member of the committee, campaigning to keep the national park wild and beautiful. My friend, the late Frank Beech (secretary of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, 1973-80) passed me a letter and card from Hope which I have now passed to the Exmoor Society.
Frank joined the Exmoor Society in 1964 and Hope wrote to thank him.
We need every new member we can get as things are getting pretty desperate here—this past year over 1,600 acres of open moorland (all heather ground) has been fenced, and much of it ploughed and more threatened. Soon there will be no natural moorland left ….
Frank wanted to know where he might stay on Exmoor and Hope recommended Wilmersham Farm and sent him a christmas card with one of her drawings of it to entice him.
She wrote a number of books, such as Living on Exmoor (1963), Wild Harvest (1978) and My Moorland Year (1993) which describe her life on Exmoor and the history, traditions and ways of the moor. She was never lonely because, as she wrote in Wild Harvest, ‘loneliness does not exist in solitude’. I couldn’t agree more.
However, the exhibition was a bit of a disappointment. There is not a great deal of material there and it’s displayed in one small room, which feels more like a passageway. There are two glass cabinets with paintings, drawings and memorabilia, and an audio of Hope reading from Wild Harvest. In another room upstairs there’s a 10-minute video made by Chris Chapman. I would have liked to have seen more about her work with the Exmoor Society, and the letters she wrote in protest against the ploughing of moorland and damaging development.
While the exhibition was not really worth a special trip, I enjoyed a day on Exmoor so I didn’t feel cheated.
The exhibition is on at the Guildhall Heritage and Arts Centre, Dulverton, until 2 November 2013.