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Exmoor and The Great Sketchbox Initiative.

My husband and I went to Exmoor for a week’s holiday in June. We were renting a friend’s house near Dulverton, it was a beautiful little cottage that had not changed in any way since the 1940s. A wonderful backdrop for an author seeking some peace and quite to write the final chapters of her second novel; I felt very immersed in history.

On our first foray into Dulverton we were very taken with the stunning beauty of the town and its setting on the banks of the Barle. I would bet good money that you can buy just about anything in the many shops there and as for food it still has all the traditional retailers selling local products; butchers, bakers, grocers, art galleries and a beautiful book shop. It was a lovely reminder of long forgotten England.

It was the bookshop, Number Seven, that really caught my attention (of course!) and the ‘Sketchbox’ in the front window. Inside I found the shop owner Christopher Jelley, a ‘Poet Technologist’ and we got chatting. He told me about his Sketchbox Initiative and how he placed tin boxes containing a pencil and sketchbook at various locations around Exmoor as part of the local arts festival. I loved the whole concept. More than that I admired the creativity, energy and commitment that people like Christopher put into such endeavours.

Christopher has been featured widely in the media and the idea has really taken off, so much so that a breathtaking 6,000 entries have been written in the books. People ‘scribe and confide’ often with poetry, limericks, thoughts, and sketches and in at least one case, a marriage proposal! Christopher has selected pieces that he has now published in a book. It makes for a delightful and often a very funny read. It really struck me how much creativity there is out there just waiting for a vehicle like the Sketchbox. When you’re alone, away from the bustling crowd, with a blank page, a view and a quiet mind, it is quite remarkable what will emerge from the imagination.

I took myself off to a local church, where a Sketchbox was located inside the porch. The view was lovely so I drew it and then transcribed a poem I’d written in the holiday cottage the day before. It had been a quiet, peaceful evening and I was sitting on a bench in the front garden miles away from busy roads, school coaches, HGVs, sirens and the sounds of every day life that, even in rural Oxfordshire where I live, have become an unceasing wall of sound. Here in rural Somerset there were the clear and constant sound of birdsong, meadows full of wildflowers and rabbits nibbling at the grass under tall hedges. It was so peaceful and serene I had to make some notes and these led to a poem. I should add that I was reading ‘Where Poppies Blow’ by John Lewis-Stempel and felt heavily influenced by the poems and reminiscences of WW1 soldiers. It is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

Old-fashioned and as unremarkable as my poem was, it captured my feelings in that moment and reflected a fondness I now have for Exmoor, which without doubt is one of the country’s most beautiful areas. If you cross the Lake District and The Cotswolds the result would be Exmoor! It truly is old England, a gentle, quiet region full of warm, welcoming people. I recommend a visit if you love, and I mean really love, nature and all things country. Townies looking for gastro-pubs and designer beers might need to think twice.

So if you are out and about in Exmoor during festival time and you come across a Sketchbox do have a go and who knows, you might come across one of my sketches or my poem amongst the thousands of other wonderful works of art.

Number Seven in Dulverton, home of the Poetry Box

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