From the Romantic Poets who "discovered" the drama of the Exmoor Landscape in the late 18th century to Blackmore's famous "Lorna Doone" and throughout the 20th century to the present day, Exmoor has proved an inspiration to writers - here are some of them:
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and his sister Dorothy moved to the Quantocks in 1797 to be near Coleridge, staying for a year. The three shared a passion for poetry, discussion and hillwalking. 'They were', as Coleridge wrote, 'as three persons with one soul'. Dorothy recorded the walks in her journals, including one in 1797 to Lynton and the Valley of Rocks, which they planned as the setting for a 'prose-tale'. This did not come to fruition, but 'Lyrical Ballads', regarded as a landmark of English Romantic poetry, resulted from their cooperation during this period.
Samual Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) lived on the Quantocks and visited Exmoor, drawing his literary friends to the area, including Wordsworth, Southey, Hazlitt and essayist Charles Lamb (1775-1834). 'Kubla Khan' was conceived in a drug-induced sleep whilst staying near Culbone. Here he also wrote part of 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', conceived during a walk to Exmoor with the Wordsworths.
Robert Southey (1774-1843) was poet laureate but best known for his prose, particularly his descriptions of people and places in his journals. His wife and Coleridge's wife were sisters. He toured Exmoor twice, each time visiting Lynton, Lynmouth and the Valley of Rocks. His likening of the area to Switzerland led to it being marketed as 'The English Switzerland' and to guest houses being built in Swiss style. His visits were later published in his 'Commonplace Book' (1851).
Essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was a friend of Coleridge and walked the Exmoor coast to Lynton with him in 1798. He gave vivid descriptions of the area, including the Valley of Rocks, in his diary.
Percey Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) stayed at Lynmouth during the summer of 1812, a time of revolution and unrest in Europe. He had radical political views and a passionate belief in personal and sexual freedom. He had eloped there with his teenage wife, Harriet. Whilst there he worked on 'Queen Mab' but mainly wrote political pamphlets.
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), daughter of poet Lord Byron, married William King, Earl of Lovelace. She was long associated with computer pioneer Charles Babbage and had a computer language, ADA, named after her. She contributed to many of his scientific papers. The Lovelaces were known for their house parties at Ashley Combe, near Porlock Weir, which attracted many famous writers and artists of the day.·Ada's granddaughter, Judith, married into the Lytton family. The Lords of Lytton have had a long association with Exmoor, owning an estate in the Culbone area. (1803-1873) was a very popular poet in his time and Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891) was a well-known poet, novelist and translator.
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), author of 'The Water Babies' and 'Westward Ho!'lived in North Devon, the latter novel giving its name to a local resort. He frequently visited Exmoor, writing descriptions in his diaries. His brother, Henry Kingsley (1830-1876), after a long spell abroad, returned to the area to write his masterpiece 'Ravenshoe' (1861), which was partly set on Exmoor.
Richard Doddridge Blackmoor (1825-1900) came from a North Devon family. His novel 'Lorna Doone', published in 1869, was based on local legends. The story was centred around Oare and Badgworthy Water but much of Exmoor was included. He wrote a sequel as a short story in a book of short stories published in the USA as 'Slain by the Doones' and in the UK as 'Tales from the Telling House'. Another short story was 'Jennifried's Story', based on Lee Abbey near Lynton. His novel'Maid of Sker' was set in North Devon and South Wales and featured Exmoor and legends surrounding the wicked Rev Froude of Knowstone.
Marie Corelli (1855-1924), popular romantic and sentimental novelist, stayed in North Devon and wove local characters into her stories. Best known is 'The Treasure of Heaven' (1906), set in Porlock Weir, and 'The Mighty Atom' (1896), set in Combe Martin.
Walter Raymond (1852-1931) was a popular writer of short stories based on country life. He lived at Withypool, on which he based 'The Book of Simple Delights' (1906). He wrote about his cottage, now named ‘Raymond’s Cottage’, behind the ‘Royal Oak’ inn.
John William Fortesque (1859-1933) was a member of a family that owned a large part of Exmoor. There is a memorial cairn to him near Simonsbath. He is best known for his mammoth 'History of the British Army' in several volumes but he also wrote about Exmoor, including 'The Story of a Red Deer' (1897).
Aubrey Herbert (1880-1923) lived at Pixton near Dulverton. He was half brother of the Earl of Carnarvon who discovered Tutankahmen's tomb and was subject ofJohn Buchan's (1875-1940) novel 'Greenmantle'. His daughter, Laura, married novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966). They lived at Pixton for a while and their son, Auberon Waugh (1939-2001), was born there. Evelyn died at Combe Florey, where Auberon continued to live. Auberon was best known as a newspaper columnist but was also a novelist and editor.
Henry Williamson (1895-1977) lived in North Devon for much of his life. He is best known for his nature stories, including 'Tarka the Otter'. In the story Tarka wanders across Exmoor and is chased down the East Lyn by otter hounds into the sea at Lynmouth. He wrote other stories and notes about Exmoor, including 'The Old Stag' and 'The Wild Red Deer of Exmoor'. He emulated country writer Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), who wrote 'Red Deer' (1884), which has recently been re-published. Williamson wrote a series of novels chronicling the first half of the 20thcentury and ending with 'The Gale of the World', based on the Lynmouth flood disaster.
Berta Lawrence (1906-2003) lived near Bridgwater. She was a teacher who wrote several books about her part of Somerset, such as 'A Somerset Journal' (1951) and 'Quantock Country' (1952). These includes sections about Exmoor and she contributed to the 'ExmoorReview' some of the best poems that have been written about Exmoor.
RF Delderfield (1912-1972) was brought up in Devon and several of his novels were given local settings, including 'To Serve them all my Days', based on his schooldays at West Buckland School. His brother, Eric Delderfield,(d.1996) wrote several local histories and guides, including 'The Lynmouth Flood Disaster', which has run into many editions.
Country writer John Peel (1913-1983) lived at Hunter's Inn and at Charles. He is best known for his columns about country life in the national press. His best known book 'Country Talk' (1970) includes reminiscences of Exmoor and he wrote a guide: 'A Portrait of Exmoor'. There is a memorial to him at County Gate.
Victor Bonham Carter (1913-2007) lived at Brushford, East Anstey, Chipstable and Milverton. He wrote about farming and the countryside and his general books include The English Village, Farming the Land, Exploring Parish Churches and The Survival of the English Countryside. He was Chairman, then President of the Exmoor Society and editor of its journal, The Exmoor Review. He founded the Exmoor Press, with its Microstudy series of books on Exmoor and his Exmoor works include The Essence of Exmoor.
Hope Bourne (1920-2010) lived at Withypool and is better known for her character and lifestyle - living off the land - than her writings. Her books about Exmoor are mainly journals, the best known of which is 'Living on Exmoor' (1963).
- Exmoor's Wildlife
- Exmoor Wildwatch
- The Exmoor Landscape
- Exmoor Words
- William Wordsworth
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Robert Southey
- William Hazlitt
- Percey Bysshe Shelley
- Ada Lovelace
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton
- Charles Kingsley
- RD Blackmore
- Marie Corelli
- Walter Raymond
- John William Fortesque
- The Herberts and Waugh
- Henry Williamson
- Berta Lawrence
- RF Delderfield
- John Peel
- Victor Bonham Carter
- Hope Bourne
- Towns and Villages
- Trees and Woodland
- Exmoor's Coast
- Exmoor's Rivers & Streams
- Porlock Marsh Vision
- Exmoor's Geology