MY COUN­TRY­SIDE

The jour­nal­ist, TV pre­sen­ter and au­thor talks about the chal­lenge and charisma of Ex­moor

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Rachel John­son

Ex­moor is my favourite place in the world, but it can be de­mand­ing and re­mote – which is what makes it per­fect for an es­cape.

My grand­par­ents bought our 500-acre fam­ily farm af­ter the Sec­ond World War, and the John­sons have been there ever since. It’s at the end of a two-mile, bone-shak­ing, rough track. Visi­tors of­ten turn back in panic, think­ing they’ve gone the wrong way.

When you go to the high­est point of the farm, you can see out over the moor for miles,

across the Bris­tol Channel in one di­rec­tion and all the way to Dart­moor in the other. Af­ter Dunkery Bea­con, our farm is the sec­ond high­est point on Ex­moor – about 450 me­tres above sea level. You can hardly see an­other house – it’s fan­tas­ti­cally sparse. I’d like to make a doc­u­men­tary about the area one day, as it’s where I feel most rooted.

There were so few chil­dren at my pri­mary school that I was in the same class as my older and younger broth­ers [Boris and Leo].

We used to walk down to the end of our drive with my mum, through miles of mud, and we’d be picked up by a lo­cal driver in a Land Rover and taken to school. There were only eight pupils in to­tal, which I loved.

Should rural life re­ally be a fash­ion state­ment?

I spend a lot of time in Scot­land – my hus­band’s fam­ily own Kel­burn Cas­tle, just south of Glas­gow.

When we’re there, we’re mostly out­doors do­ing ev­ery­thing from cro­quet to shoot­ing, as well as hik­ing up the glen and swim­ming in the burn. Scot­land has a grandeur like nowhere else.

Al­most all of us have that yearn­ing to be in the coun­try­side, even if we live in a city.

Ex­moor cer­tainly sat­is­fies that need for me. It has the first In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serve in Europe. When you go out­side at night, it’s pitch black and com­pletely quiet ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional sound of barn owls and the rush­ing wa­ter of the nearby River Exe. By day you see more peo­ple on horse­back than you do in cars.

When­ever I’m home on Ex­moor, I like to go walk­ing, and eat and drink a lot.

There’s a won­der­ful shop in nearby Dul­ver­ton where Chris­tine Nelder makes a selection of sweet and savoury pies – we eat a large num­ber of those! My chil­dren, who are grown up now, can of­ten be per­suaded to come on coun­try walks with me once they know there’s the chance of a pub lunch at the end. Doone Val­ley is a won­der­ful place to walk, and there’s a deep river where you can go swim­ming – if you’re brave enough.

I’m not sure any­one got the pun in the ti­tle of my sec­ond novel,

Shire Hell. I think that there’s a lot of fact in fic­tion and fic­tion in fact. I saw the coun­try­side be­com­ing like Har­vey Ni­chols, with the same trendy peo­ple, food and clothes as Lon­don, and wanted to satirise that. I’m not sure how I feel about it – should rural life re­ally be a fash­ion state­ment? That’s what I was spoof­ing.

March is al­ways a lovely month in Som­er­set – the hills are cov­ered in daf­fodils and prim­roses, and lamb­ing sea­son is in full swing.

It’s a busy time for farm­ers and I love help­ing out in the lamb­ing sheds. When I’ve de­liv­ered one, I want to go back and see how it’s do­ing. You feel con­nected – it’s re­ally quite mov­ing.

I have al­ways said that I was against Brexit and that ‘we’re bet­ter

to­gether’. I feel it’s pos­si­bly a dis­as­ter for the coun­try­side but, with so much un­cer­tainty, we will have to see…

Rachel John­son ap­pears in Sky News’ s weekly dis­cus­sion show, The Pledge, on Thurs­days at 8pm.

When not out­doors ex­plor­ing the wood­land and com­mons of Ex­moor, Rachel en­joys sim­i­lar ac­tiv­i­ties at Kel­burn Cas­tle in North Ayr­shire

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