Driving down the A39 from Bridgwater in driving rain, lightning dancing across the clouds it did not bode well for the day ahead. The small village of Porlock, sitting at the edge of Exmoor was the starting point for exploring the high moorland.
This moorland and wooded area covers 692 km², crossing the border between Somerset and Devon, plunging down high cliffs into the Bristol Channel and gently sloping towards the county town of Taunton in the north and Tiverton in the south.
Rutting Red Deer
Each autumn the stags from all over the moor congregate to mate with the girls. This is known as the rut. The stags protect their harem from intruding males and ensure they are the father to the young born to the herd in June. The rutting involves bolving, fighting and make-up sessions with mud and vegetation.
Heading up onto the moor the early morning mist was burning burning off the hills, the sun fighting through the insulating and damp cloud cover from the night before.. Close to Dunkery Beacon the mist hung tight to the hill. A beautiful golden glow coated the bracken and heather in the early light.
Away from habitation and the influences of man the first stag and hinds were spotted. Sitting at the top of a valley they were aware of our presence but content with the distance we kept from them. Just one stag and five hinds. There was however a young male circling. He was keeping his distance by was very definitely on the prowl. Looking for an opportunity to make his presence felt within this small herd.
Higher on the moor towards Dunkery Beacon a larger herd with a dominant and majestic stag grazed along the skyline, moving gently through the grass and bracken.
Dancing around the squals that blew through, Exmoor showed its true colours, the light changing at every turn. Intense colours and vivid shades combined with contrasting bracken and fading heathers coated the landscape as far as they eye could see. The combination of wild landscape and open farmland blending across the moorland and deep valleys.
Exmoor ponies are semi-feral, living wild on the moor. Gentle and quiet they graze the open moorland. Once a year there are rounded up to be checked over, but are otherwise left to roam the moor in small herds. They are pure-bred and it is believed that they have not changed since the Ice Age.
Exmoor is also working farmland with unique traffic issues not experienced in many other parts of England.
Exmoor is easily accessible even in bad weather and provides great photographic options. From the rutting stags to Tarr Steps, this really is a magical photographic landscape! It can be reached from the M5 via Bridgwater and out along the coast on the A39 passing Dunster or from Taunton, meandering over the hills towards Minehead.
As with any moorland, planning and safety are essential to ensure a safe return from these wild hills.
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