Getting ready for winter

I got a report that the temperature was down to -2degC across the moor a few days ago which set alarm bells ringing. We usually get our first serious frost at the beginning of November at The Exmoor Centre but its early this year, we have the potential for frosty mornings for seven months of the year!

When the woodburning stove is raging the bunkhouse is toasty and warm no matter what the weather but left unheated the temperature drops and being in a deep combe high on the moor some days the temperature struggles to get above freezing.

Our main winter problem is the water system; it soon freezes solid potentially causing damage to the delicate gas water heater and the shower mixer, both of which were damaged last year. A couple of years ago we altered the water system a bit to allow it to be drained down quickly, all we need do now is turn a couple of valves and open the taps. Refilling is also straight-forward meaning we can fairly easily turn the system on and off. The exception is the shower which cannot be drained without several hours work so we tend to leave it off during the winter unless groups are staying for several days.

Snow is our other problem, it covers our solar panel meaning the batteries soon run down. If you are at the bunkhouse during a snowstorm remember to clear the panel as soon as the snow stops falling.

Chopping wood is a relentless task in the winter, we try to get a good stock of wood together through our ongoing woodland management around the property and the local farmers are good enough to allow us to collect wood from hedging etc, we even raid builders skips on a regular basis for free firewood. Most visitors are good enough to leave plenty of wood ready for the next visitors to get a fire going without too much work.

For all the extra work winter brings it really is the best time to be at The Exmoor Centre and we have a hard-core of regulars who come to Mountain Bike and Hike the hills throughout the winter. Pack you winter waterproofs and book yourself in, you might get lucky and get snowed in!

  View from the bunkhouse on a snowy morning

 

Future events

Yesterday we had a meeting with Neil and Christel from Experience Exmoor to thrash out some ideas about events for 2013. We are hoping to put together a series of daytime and night-time wild-Exmoor experiences making the most of our facilities at The Exmoor Centre and Neil and Christel’s business ‘Experience Exmoor‘.

Daytime events may include Bushcraft days with the emphasis being on creating something unique using natures resources that you can take home as a momento rather than the usual ‘Survival’ focus of Bushcraft days.

Night-time Experiences will make the very best use of Exmoor Dark Skies exploring one of the remotest Valleys of Exmoor to soak up not only the nightlife of the Beasts of the moor but also the wonders of the whole Universe.

Stay tuned for more news and please get in touch if this has whet your appetite and we will  keep you update directly and you may even get the chance to be a guinea-pig on our trial days and nights!

There are some great photos of Neil and Christel’s last trip to see us here

James’ team discover Exmoor

Blog Post by James Law (http://jamesdlaw.com/)

Each year, our group of mates congregate from various parts of the
country for a weekend in the wilds – a spot of canoeing, some walking
or cycling maybe – whatever it takes to blow away the cobwebs.

And like any internet researched trip, you never really know what
your going to end up with in when it comes to the location and
accommodation you end up picking. But when the instructions just to
get to the your temporary front door are, “slow right down, engage
low range gearing, don’t go over 5 miles an hour and watch out as you
cross the river at the bottom!” you know you’re in for a treat.

Our home for the weekend, the Exmoor Centre offered the perfect combo
of wild surroundings (slap bang in the middle of the moor no less),
warmth at the end of a rubbish summer (a log burner with combined
oven and a roof as opposed to canvas) and close proximity to our
weekend’s ents (walking, mtb’ing and great pubs).

When you combine all that with a very warm welcome from Will the
centre manager, a black sky full of stars (the centre is in part of Europe’s
first dark sky reserve) and a natural plunge pool in the adjoining
river to ease your aching bones (bring your wetsuits) and everything
was nigh on perfect.

We spent the first evening following the path by foot down to
Watersmeet and along to Rockford for a few swift ales in their local
before hiking back in the dark. The beer was great but the famous
Exmoor hills certainly set us soft city lads up for our dinner of
brisket chili and a few hands of poker by the warmth of the wood burner.

Day two saw us hiring mountain bikes from Dan at Exmoor Adventures
(http://www.exmooradventures.co.uk/) for a trip out onto Brendon
Common. The rapid descent from the top of the hill where the Exmoor
Centre lies down to Hillsford bridge was a great start to the
morning, and the climb back up to the moor itself opened up our lungs
for a great but testing day in the saddle. Lunch at The Staghunters
in Brendon, sat in the sun overlooking the river was a welcome break
before we took a deep breath and climbed back to the centre to try
out the plunge pool – an exhilarating finalé!

As we packed the next morning, all the talk was of when we’d be able
to make it back to Exmoor and the centre. Re-engaging low range in the
4×4 we crossed the river for the last time, fully satisfied and
without a cobweb in site…

Autumns nearly here

Autumn has nearly arrived at The Exmoor Centre. There were the first signs of some leaves changing colour this week. Before long the valleys will echo to the sound of Stags belving (bolving/roaring/making a God awful racket!) and the morning will be crisp and frosty.

We get frost at the bunkhouse over 7 months of the year. No wonder the river is bracing to swim in even in summer.

The times when the centre was only used in summer are long gone. Outdoor clothing is so good now its no real hardship to explore the moor at any time of the year. We have a huge covered drying area at the centre and the woodburner makes the bunkhouse cozy on even the coldest days.

Another advantage of the shortening days are longer nights and more chances to experience the amazing dark skies that have earn’t Exmoor status as Europes first Dark Skies Reserve. The bunkhouse is one of the only places on the moor that you can stay within the darkest area of the moor. Our campfire is an excellent observatory to watch satellites race overhead.

There are still some spare weekends left that you can book this year and plenty of weekday slots for school groups or those lucky enough to escape work.

Drop us an email and come and explore…

Mountain Biking

I had a meeting out at The Exmoor Centre today and decided to combine it with a bit of exercise so set off on the trusty old Ribble mountain bike.

The Exmoor Centre really is a haven for off road cycling as the pictures below show. These were all taken within a few minutes of the bunkhouse.

First one a downhill MTB dream, steep rocky with some jumps and drop-offs. Once tarmaced this track still has big lumps of metalled surface to ease the pain for a second here and there.  I was heading up today which is just not fun at all.

Second, the approach to the bunkhouse from the west, very steep and rocky, washed out slippery bedrock in places. Nearly always an ‘off’ somewhere down this track!

Top flat section of the previous lane, much more gentle going but a few wheel stopper mud sections and some super slippery bits can catch you out if you’re clipped into your pedals!

 

 

Foraging

We like a bit of free grub here. The Exmoor Centre has an abundance of goodies to harvest.

Mushrooms are a favourite and are great for all sorts of campfire recipes, well worth booking yourself on one of The National Trusts Fungii Forays held at a few of their estates in the autumn months: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/heddon-valley/things-to-see-and-do/events/ Not far from the bunkhouse you’ll find huge puffball mushrooms amongst other tasty treats, please be very careful with identification though, most tasty mushrooms have an evil near identical brother that can make you proper poorly.

Within the centres grounds we have Rowan Berries to Harvest, raw they are not edible but cooked these make good Jams and are reputed to be excellent for digestion and the lungs.

Embedded image permalink

Exmoor’s bridleways provide a rich hunting ground for blackberries, this year we are tackling some blackberry infused whisky as well as the usual mountain of blackberry and apple pies we have to wade through each autumn.

Embedded image permalink

Fun at The Exmoor Centre

We don’t do Technology at The Exmoor Centre. Phones don’t work, Game Consoles and MP3 players soon run out of charge, there is no internet connection. What we do have is far better, just look at the expressions…

Wild swimming and larking about in the splash-pool upstream of the centre is a favourite, you soon get used to the chilly water. Night swimming is even better for the brave, lying in the natural hydro-therapy spa that is the white water of hoaroak water and stagazing is an experience you’ll never forget.

The zipline isn’t a permanent feature of the site, but its very popular when it is brought out to play.

The winter is the best time to be at the centre, being in a steep sided valley high on the moor we get morning frosts for 7months of the year! We don’t let bad weather get in the way of the fun though, just stoke up the woodburner and get out and play. Drying out and warming up over toasted marshmallows around the fire is part of the experience.

Stargazing

There is hardly a better place in Europe to stargaze than at The Exmoor Centre, we are within the Exmoor Dark Skies reserve and on clear nights the night sky is staggering. The photo above was taken in early August 2012, using a slow shutter speed of several minutes star trails form around the Pole Star, the big beech tree is lit up purely from candlelight in the bunkhouse!

You simply won’t believe how busy the night sky is, satellites race overhead, lapping the world at a staggering rate. When we took the photo above we could often see four satellites at a time passing over. Even though we were a week or so earlier than the peak of the Perseid meteor shower we were seeing shooting stars regularly that night.

For more information on Exmoor’s Dark Sky Reserve status look here:

http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/environment/landscape/dark-skies

http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/visiting/things-to-do/stargazing

 

Outside at The Exmoor Centre

Outside the bunkhouse there is a brick built BBQ and eating area with picnic tables, this links through to the main campfire area.

At the back of the centre there is ample undercover drying space, sadly much used given Exmoor’s climate!

The main site area itself is fenced and provides a good level camping area and is ideal for games and team building activities. We have recently installed a gate giving easy access to the river as it is often used as a natural fridge or more often it seems for water-fights!

The outer site area provides additional wild camping areas and steep woodland that again can be used for team building activities, this outer area opens direct onto the moor giving access to one of the most remote and untouched valleys on Exmoor. We have recently added a temporary nature watching hide at the top of the site, this it is hoped will become a permanent feature when we have decided if its location is right.

The site is approximately a km from the nearest houses and has some of the darkest night skies in the world making stargazing an unforgettable experience for those more used to town life.

 

 

 

Inside at The Exmoor Centre

 

The bunkhouse has two bunkrooms of 6 and 8 bunks with an extra 2 camp beds in the living area. We have a filtered spring water supply and hot water via an instantaneous gas heater if required. A wood burning stove provides ample heat and has a built in oven. The kitchen also has a gas stove with 4 burner hob and oven. The wash area has two basins and two WC cubicles one with a shower. General Lighting and 12v power is provided by batteries charged by a solar panel. Additional 240v power is available via a diesel generator for extra lighting and other electrical needs if required.