Caroline is Communications Officer for Exmoor National Park and a BBC Radio Presenter. She shares one of her best loved havens on Exmoor.
One of my favourite family walking spots is Haddon Hill.
Situated near the southern tip of Exmoor it sweeps above Wimbleball lake with stunning views and a range of trails to suit all comers. The lake was severely depleted due to drought last year, creating empty muddy scenes reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie still, but thankfully is filling up nicely again.
In Winter, a circular wander will afford you spectacular sunsets from the trigpoint at the summit and a chance to look out over taking in iconic landscapes that seem to transcend across the eras.
The route down from Haddon Hill to the village of Bury is also particularly dramatic. The starkly impressive Wimbleball Dam and one end of the walk contrasts with Bury’s ancient bridge nestling alongside the ford, where you can wade through and wash off your wellies or keep your walking boots dry staying on the stones. It was at that moment, I realised my well-used wellies were leaking.
Haddon Hill is home of one of Exmoor National Park’s two herds of Exmoor Ponies and their foals, the cheekiest being ‘Elmo.’ All Exmoor National Park ponies are named after flora, Latin or common name, and follow the alphabet year after year. Elmo’s real name is ‘Haddon Elm,’ but ‘The Moorland Maise Trust’ who aid the Rangers in pony care, were stable naming all the ponies after the muppets that year and the moniker stuck.
For many people, seeing Exmoor Ponies on the open moors is one of the highlights of a trip to Exmoor and, at this time of year, they look particularly adorable sporting a thick, two-layered protective coat. Later in Spring they shed their woolly protection and start to display their fine and glossy summer selves. Foals are born in the spring and early summer and spend the summer running with their mothers, known as dams. Throughout the year they build up a store of fat to take them through the hard winter ahead. The ponies are inspected and micro-chipped on various Exmoor farms in the Autumn, foals are weaned and either sold or returned to the moor for the winter. Some eventually become riding or even therapy ponies.
The Exmoor Pony is considered one of the best native ponies for conservation grazing. Due to its hardiness, it needs minimal management and its ability to eat gorse is a huge benefit; its varied diet changing with the seasons and avoiding environmental pressure.
Obviously, on Haddon Hill it’s best to leave the wild herd well alone, but for a chance to get up close to the ponies, you can visit the very helpful Exmoor Pony Centre at Ashwick near Dulverton or join one of the many Exmoor Pony events organised locally throughout the summer.
Please be aware of ponies when driving on Exmoor, particularly on areas of open moorland and keep your speed down. There have sadly been a number of pony fatalities due to collisions with cars. Never try to feed or touch the ponies.