A guide to the thriving, rural town of Dulverton
PUBLISHED: 11:28 15 April 2019
Catherine Courtenay heads to West Somerset and explores the town that marks the southern gateway to Exmoor
Things start early in Dulverton. If you happen to be in town at 6.15am you can pop into The Tantivy and pick up a newspaper.
The general stores are a hive of activity at all times of the day and for 364 days of the year – and have been for 16 years.
The current owners are Dave Weaver and Greg Golding who've not been long at the helm, but are energetically following on in well-loved footsteps. The Tantivy, like many shops in Dulverton, is woven into community life.
Spend a day here and you'll end up feeling a bit like you belong too. The welcome is warm; pop into any shop or café and get chatting – you'll discover a genuine love of the town.
It may be an uncharacteristically warm and sunny late winter's day when I visit, the sort of day that brings a smile to every face, but even so, the positive energy in the town is noticeable and, I suspect, pretty normal. People are walking the streets, sitting outside cafés enjoying a coffee, and several are making the most of the lunchtime peace, taking a quiet moment on a bench in the churchyard.
All Saints' Church sits at the top of town, and is easily accessed. It's a beautiful spot, carpets of crocuses are replacing winter's snowdrops, a cloud of purple lining the sloping site, which is terraced up behind the church building.
Sitting on a bench, the warm stone of the church walls at your back, it's a perfect spot to sit and look out over the town to the surrounding hills.
Maggie Hounslow from Acorn Antiques wasn't at all surprised that so many people were relaxing in the churchyard. “It's part of the community,” she says. She and Peter have had this shop for around 30 years and it's like walking into a home – full of atmosphere and filled with antiques, paintings, gorgeous fabrics and examples of the sofas and chairs they make and sell far and wide.
Lily the cat is also part of the furniture – the first cat I spot in town, although Maggie assures me there are plenty of others.
Mind you, this is a very dog friendly town, four-legged friends are everywhere, taking as much pleasure from the surprising sunny day as their owners.
When it comes to shops, Dulverton is well served. A butcher's, greengrocer's, chemist, post office, newsagents, deli and hardware store. And I spy a mobile fishmonger – pulled up alongside the library.
The town brings in the Ladies who Lunch crowd, I'm told, and with shops like Brimblecombe with its toiletries and gifts, Browns Jewellery and the range of quality clothes at The Pink Rooster, I can see why. But Dulverton can't be defined in such simple terms, there are surprises to be had, like the Vintage Treasure Chest, filled with teddy bears and dolls' house furniture.
Then there are the cafes, restaurants and pubs. All completely different, the buildings they inhabit are so much a part of the dining experience. An early morning cup of speciality coffee from Mortimers is a must – as is their apple cake. Flagged up on Twitter by a regular cyclist visitor, I agree entirely – fruity and almondy, it's a good one. You can delve into the Copper Kettle for a traditional tea or sit in the window and people watch at Tantivy.
And for a small, very rural, town, Dulverton can boast a la carte Thai food at Tongdam restaurant. This is a local treasure, offering a different European fusion-style menu at lunchtime and it has a few rooms, so you can stay over.
Another perpetual winner is Woods restaurant and bar, which combines a cosy pub feel with top notch food – and a multi award wining wine list. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have visited Woods, but don't for one minute think that means it's posh and exclusive. Woods, like the rest of the town, is completely down to earth – rooted, as it were, in the Exmoor soil and its people.
Along with the outdoorsy, moorland vibe, Dulverton has a hefty dose of creativity. There are plenty of artists hereabouts and also stories to be told. Head to Rothwell & Dunworth antiquarian booksellers and get lost in its rooms, stashed with books, most of which you'll struggle to find anywhere else. It's been around since the 70s and is still run by the same family, says Cristie Bowcher-Royce, who's sat at her desk, wrapping books in brown paper, ready for posting all over the world.
Just up the road is Number Seven, a magical shop filled with crafts, nature books and artists' materials. Step inside and listen to the ticking that comes from the quirky raku clocks made by Ian Roberts. Slightly Harry Potter-ish, I'm sure they come alive at night. Owner Davina Jelley says she is influenced by the seasons, colour and art – and storytelling. She also runs a walking book club where readers share their thoughts while exploring and experiencing the paths that snake through the surrounding extensive woodlands.
The outdoors is never far away, this is Exmoor after all. The National Park Authority is based here and information about the many ways to explore the moor is available at the Exmoor National Park Centre. And how about borrowing a telescope for the night? That's right, for £25 (and a £100 refundable deposit) you can take a proper telescope home and gaze at the stars overhead in this official Darks Skies Reserve.
If that's not a reason to visit Dulverton and book yourself in to a B&B or holiday cottage for the night, then I don't know what is.
Moor to explore...
If you're keen on investigating the history the moor in a wider context, visit the Exmoor Resource Centre. It's run by The Exmoor Society which maintains a comprehensive archive of material relating to the history of the moor going back over 60 years, and as long as you give some notice, its free for people to access. The centre in the High Street, also has a shop selling Exmoor-related items.
Keep history flowing...
In 2012 a major flood damaged a section of the weir just upstream of the town on the River Barle; the following year the leat that came from the weir and runs through the bottom edge of Dulverton ran dry. This spurred the town into action and a trust was formed to try and restore the weir and leat which, it turns out, are historically very significant. There were six mills in Dulverton in the 16th century and the water that powered them came from what's described as 'the best preserved medieval leat in England'. The Dulverton Weir and Leat Conservation Trust aims to restore this historic treasure, tell its story and use the opportunity to improve the surrounding wildlife habitiats.