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 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,