A sur­pris­ingly big ad­ven­ture on Ex­moor

UPS AND DOWNS At once wild and gen­tle, the na­tional park is full of hid­den gems. is impressed

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Sunday Drive - Richard Web­ber

The as­cent of Por­lock Hill is no­to­ri­ous, climb­ing 1,300ft in less than two miles. It’s easy to see why this one-in-four with hair­pin bends was used by man­u­fac­tur­ers to test their cars’ dura­bil­ity.

My chil­dren nor­mally shut their eyes when we at­tempt the climb in our aged but ever-re­li­able Peu­geot 206 SW, which starts to whim­per when faced with this near-ver­ti­cal hill. But there’s no need for closed eyes this time as I put my foot down and the new Mini Cooper D Coun­try­man’s engine re­sponds ef­fort­lessly.

Even though the power of the Coun­try­man meant any nerves dis­si­pate quickly, ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing my wife, heaves a sigh of re­lief as we reach the top of the hill and the Ex­moor land­scape spreads out be­fore us. We con­tinue along the A39, which runs from Bath to Corn­wall’s south coast, cutting across the north­ern strip of Ex­moor in the process.

As we drive over open moor­land it’s easy to see why R D Black­more chose Ex­moor as the set­ting for his ro­mance Lorna Doone. I keep my eyes on the sheep – dar­ing each other to take mad dashes across the road in front of our car – while sneak­ing mo­men­tary glances at the stun­ning scenery. To my right, stark cliffs line the wa­ters of the Bris­tol Chan­nel, glis­ten­ing in the morn­ing sun. The other side is wooded val­leys, tum­bling streams, a patch­work of fields and wild, empty moor.

At 21 miles by 12, Ex­moor is among the small­est of Bri­tain’s na­tional parks yet one of the pret­ti­est, and the Mini Coun­try­man seemed an ap­po­sitely named car in which to ex­plore. I have fond mem­o­ries of my un­cle’s rat­tly 1967 Austin Mini Coun­try­man with its barn-style back doors and dec­o­ra­tive wood on the body­work.

How styles have changed over the years. What was once a diminu­tive, rather rudi­men­tary car is now a rel­a­tively large one. In­side, it’s spa­cious, with up­mar­ket up­hol­stery and the lat­est gad­getry. It drives well, too,

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