At Comer’s Gate we entered the National Trust estate, and drove along the central highway that runs for three miles over a treeless moor of heather, mixed with bright green whortleberry and young bracken. We were on high ground, 1,100 feet above sea-level. Away to the south-west lifted Dunkery Beacon. What astonished us most was that, on the high swelling uplands right and left of us, the ground was covered with promise of future harvest—patches of green corn, striped here and there with other patches of golden charlock, whilst out of the hedgerows stood up trees almost of forest growth. (pp. 110-111)….
No grouse are found here, but the black game breed and flourish. After passing along for a couple of miles in this magnificent air we came to the cross-roads that lead respectively to Cutcombe and down to Tarr or Torr Steps. (p. 111)….
For here on Winsford Hill we are back in a very ancient historic past. Mounsey Castle, a British encampment, is not far away. Down in the hollow lies the most interesting prehistoric bridge, Torr or Tarr Steps, that exists in Somersetshire; and as we stand by this stone of Caranticus we can go back in fancy to a time when as yet the name of Christ had not been heard in this wild upland. (p. 113)
There is reason to believe that the folk who made their rude enclosures for tilth hereabout, and raised their earthworks for defence, were the Belgic Celts, who settled on these seaward moorlands, sea-moor-œtas, who came here about 350 B. C. They gave the names, that still exist, to Dunkery, to Cutcombe, to Dulverton and Dunster, they were never defeated by Roman or Dane, and even when Athelstan made the land English, in the year 926, and drove many of the inhabitants beyond the Tamar, they still clung to higher grounds, and have left behind them, in the colour of the hair and in the dark eyes of the farm folk of the district, ineffaceable racial characteristics that tell us they are Belgic Celts still. (p. 113)
Leaving the “Long Stone,” we went down swiftly from the upland and made our way by Liskham farm, to Tarr or Torr Steps, by one of the steepest and worst metalled roads a motor-car was ever driven over. The silence of the moorland was changed for the singing of birds. The blackbird fluted, and the garden warbler thrilled the air with his ecstasy. As we went we saw on the opposite side of the valley a drove of Exmoor ponies, and determined to visit the pony farm on our return journey. We had heard much of the wonder of the prehistoric Tarr Steps, and were not disappointed. Across the silver-shining Barle the long-vanished race had determined to build, not only for futurity, but in such a manner as to defy all rage of flood that the Barle could fling against it. They laid their rough piers four feet above the ordinary summer level of the stream, and protected these piers with sloping fender stones. Then, with exquisite nicety, they poised upon these piers huge slabs of grey rock, the biggest 8 feet long by 5 feet wide. They used no mortar, but they must have had very accurate knowledge of weight and the power of resistance of weight against the rushing flood-water. These stones remain just as they were placed , probably more than two thousand two hundred years ago, though the river in winter time has been known to rise 4 feet above the bridge. (pp. 113-114)
One does not know which to wonder at most: the accurate laying of the stones, which reminds one of the exquisite craft of pyramid builders, or the labour by which these great weights were conveyed hither; for Sir Thomas Acland told me that each of these stones must have been brought from a distance of not less than twenty miles. (pp. 114-115)….
We ascended the steep hill from the ford with difficulty, and made our way to Old Ashway farm, in which for generations the Acland family have reared their pure-blooded drove of Exmoor ponies. The master of the house was away, but his only daughter, a pure Celt, with her raven-black hair and dark eyes, gave us courteous welcome, and learning that we wished to see the ponies, who for all we knew might be at the back-of-beyond, she ran off to hail a lad to help her, and in a few moments two of the ponies used to the work of rounding up the rest, came scampering down to the farmyard, and made straight for their stalls. Whilst the lad was saddling them she went to the house, and Diana of the Moor, after making a dramatically quick change, reappeared in riding kit of khaki coat and breeches, red cap and stock whip in hand, and in another moment was mounted and we saw her flashing up the hill, she and the pony as one, and while she disappeared from sight the lad went off on his pony in another direction. We waited ten minutes or so, and a drove of twenty delicate-limbed creatures, with mealy muzzles, rushed down on to the meadow beside the farm, and drew up short to gaze at the strangers. I noticed that on the ham of each pony was the indelible Acland mark for pure breed, an anchor, and I ascertained that the average number of foals each year is about forty; that of these about twenty are kept, as up to standard in size and colour, for three or four years, but the rest are sold as suckers. (pp. 115-116)
The great fair of the year, at which all Exmoor ponies are sold, takes place at Bampton on the third Thursday in October, when by use immemorial the whole main street is given up to a ramping, trampling multitude. The shutters are put up and the whole place during the time of sale is pandemonium. But every Exmoor pony that goes there finds a buyer, the bulk of them being destined for pit ponies, for which they are in constant demand. (pp. 116-117)
It was a little sorrowful to think that these bright-eyed creatures, such embodiments of the spirits of the moorland, should be allowed so short a time in the sun and wind upon their native uplands. (p. 117)
(A Nation’s Heritage, pp. 109-118)