Advice for Writers

Rural Landscapes: Inspirational Places

This is a follow up to my first Rural Landscapes post in January. Having this afternoon completed a 3hr drive up from the far south west of England, the simplicity of the journey and the striking landscape of the area never fails to fuel my desire to move back down there. The striking, rugged landscapes of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall is always instantly recognisable and has become synonymous with a lot of British-based period dramas and horror films.

Bodmin Moor copyright: MG Mason
Bodmin Moor – early Spring 2014
copyright: MG Mason

The south west of England is most famous for the three moors – Exmoor (Somerset and Devon), Dartmoor (Devon) and Bodmin Moor (Cornwall). They are all pretty similar in terrain and flora. The picture above is of Bodmin Moor, in a valley as you come over a hill, approaching the town of Bodmin but it could be any of the three. Below is a shot I took on Dartmoor some years ago when I first moved to Exeter.

033 Dartmoor
Somewhere on Dartmoor – Late Spring 2005
copyright: MG Mason

I love this type of landscape. In spring it is electric, bright and buzzing with insects. In summer you are dazzled by colours and smells and you can really get a sense of isolation and you don’t need to get too far away from the main roads either. Early Autumn is ablaze with autumn colours which is enhanced by the abundant heather (which makes a lovely honey!) late Autumn can feel imposing and close, leaves have gone, there is often a heavy mist – perfect for the Halloween atmosphere. Winter can be treacherous for traffic and barren to look at but it is not without its own intense beauty. The rain moves in sheets (sideways) and when it snows, it is spectacular.

Exmoor - Autumn 2012 copyright: MG Mason
Exmoor – Autumn 2012
copyright: MG Mason

Heather is a typical feature of heath and moorland and though it is seen all over the country, it always reminds me of my favourite part of the country so I come to associate heather particularly with Exmoor and Dartmoor. Exmoor is the only one of the three moors to run right up to the coast and the views from the High Moor across the Bristol Channel can be pretty spectacular at any time of the year. Many times I went up Porlock Hill (the eastern gateway to Exmoor) to sit and write overlooking Bossington Beach and feeling that sea air from one side and the scent of wild heather from the other side.

The coastline of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall is also much admired and recognisable, often used as a “typical” British coastline. The horror film The Dark was set in Wales and features (aside from Maria Bello and Sean Bean) a number of Welsh actors… but it was filmed in Devon and, I think, particularly around The Valley of Rocks – another place I find inspiring and just a few miles west of Porlock.

These landscapes always put me in mind of big epic period pieces too. It is the Exmoor landscape that is the setting for Lorna Doone and now, there is an area near to the photograph above that has been renamed “Doone Valley” in honour of the celebrated “novel of Exmoor”. When you visit it is not difficult to see why. The high-rise heather covered hills, trees, lazy rivers and quaint period houses are inspiring in themselves but the fact that the valley is accessible by single track roads and sees very little traffic makes it easy to get away from busy trunk road linking Porlock to Lynmouth with the tourist towns of Ilfracombe farther west and Minehead to the east.

I dream of having a small cottage on one of the moors – a writer’s retreat where I can get away from everything and let the landscape inspire me. I think, as writers we need that sometimes.

Overlooking Bossington Beach - May 2009 copyright: MG Mason
Overlooking Bossington Beach – May 2009
copyright: MG Mason

So, what places inspire you? Which landscapes are you drawn to and what landscapes make you want to grab a pen and notepad?


8 thoughts on “Rural Landscapes: Inspirational Places

  1. Great post. I would love to visit and explore this countryside!

    I love the Rocky mountains and the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, two stunning locations. The Tetons in Yellowstone are pretty iconic, too, and make me think of epic stories. The California coast, though different vegetation, is similar to the countryside you describe above. Well, maybe not, I guess they are each unique, but that sense of beauty and wonder is the same.

    Also, just about any place in New Zealand is just plain amazing, though funny enough, it never makes me pick up my pen, but rather just go explore.

    I would love to visit the deserts of African and the Arabian peninsula, and especially, the Gobi desert. While I’ve been in the Northern American Sonoran desert (and Death Valley), I think the scale of those foreign (to me) deserts would be neat to see and experience.

    1. Yes, I recall you speaking of your love for NZ (your husband is a Kiwi?)

      I do love to explore too but no other places except moorland makes me want to just sit down and take in the environment.

      I’ve seen the Rockies, though the Canadian end – I stayed in Banff for a few days in 2002. I can imagine as they had south and the climate becomes more temperate that even the same mountain range might vary?

  2. Lovely post and some great pictures here too. Devon is a favourite place of mine as well. As for being drawn for inspiration, I would cite Shropshire, where, for me, a striking landscape melds with childhood memories and a deep personal affection for the place. The Long Mynd and its surrounds are as unspoilt an area as you will find within English borders. Breathtaking and equally inspirational, the west coast of Scotland, and islands like Arran and Skye. On Skye, you can go from lush vegetation, fields and hills, to moonscape in moments.

    1. I haven’t seen as much of Shropshire as I would have liked so far. I go to Ludlow every year for the Christmas Fayre (last weekend in November if you’ve never been) though a couple of years ago I had a weekend break in Shrewsbury and managed to get out and see some of the lovely countryside.

      I agree that the Welsh Marches are a gorgeous place, and probably as much right to be a national park as the South Downs (I used to live near the South Downs, still prefer the Welsh Marches!)

  3. The most inspirational place I’ve ever visited is Yosemite. We backpacked in, and then about 6 miles in we were covered in a snowstorm and lost the trail, so we made a bivouac for that night, and over the next couple of days tried to find our way out, but encountered such glorious open fields of wildflowers by trickling, clean streams of water, we had to stay a night or two.

    Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I’d love to visit there.

    1. Oh I’m jealous! I’ve not seen as much of the US as I would have liked and Yosemite is one of the places I would like to see. I’ve done Grand Canyon, so I’ve crossed that off my list at least.

      The southwest of England is my spiritual home and I’m pleased that later this year I will be moving farther in that direciton.

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