The Character of Wessex: Exmoor

We already covered Exmoor ponies a couple of weeks ago on this blog. Now it's time to turn to their natural habitat, a landscape that inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Henry Williamson and RD Blackmore, and which gave its name to the Devonian period. Exmoor is bounded to the north by the Bristol Channel, while the Taw/Torridge estuary forms its south-western extremity.

A royal forest since shortly after the Norman invasion, Exmoor was extensively redeveloped in the 18th and 19th centuries by the landowning Knight family. Though there is evidence of human presence since at least the Bronze Age, much of its current settlement pattern can be traced back to the Knights.

As well as the aforementioned ponies, Exmoor is home to a local breed of sheep, the Exmoor Horn. Sheep farming is a major part of the area's economy, along with some dairying, and coniferous plantations for timber supply.

Among wild plants, purple heather predominates. while red deer are a large part of Exmoor's identity. Local rare species include Dartford warblers and Bechstein's bats.

Whilst the moorland itself is gentler than nearby Dartmoor, the coastline contains some of the steepest cliffs in England. Along with deep river valleys, it is easy to see why Exmoor's landscapes were such an influence on the romantic movement.

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