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eating, Exmoor pony breeding and selling. Better mutton, if well selected, with currant jelly, just to titivate the flavour-to those at least who like small mutton-it would be difficult to find; and as for the ponies, better of their breed none are there in Merry England, and if not there, where? may I be permitted to ask.
I may here briefly observe that previous to the year 1818 Exmoor, or Exmoor Forest as it was then more generally termed, was the property of the Crown, and leased to Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, who owns a moor-property adjoining. At that period there were few roads; and he used its wild pastures principally for the breeding of sheep and ponies. The actual forest even to the present day bears no traces of any population having existed there since the time of the Romans, who are believed to have worked iron mines thereon. Happily, however, some men of the West are wide-awake, and those who are wise enough to follow my footsteps, during the bright months of September and October, instead of Germanizing it, and water curing it, at considerable outlay, may gain health and strength and appetite from the fresh air of these beautiful moors, at half the expense, and half the annoyance, without dirt or passports; moreover, eat Exmoor mutton and trout, instead of sausages and sour krout-perchance have a deer hunt, and behold the mines at work again.
These heather-clad moors, so little known to the million who inhabit the Metropolis, to which may be added several other millions who have yet to learn there is something worth seeing in the land we live in, consists of about twenty thousand acres, on an elevation varying from a thousand to twelve hundred feet above the level of the sea, of undulating table land, divided by valleys or coombs, through which the river Exe, (which rises, as I have named in a previous chapter, on the moor) with its tributary-the Barle-forces its circuitous and meandering way in the form of pleasant trout streams rattling over and among high stones, and creeping through deep pools, to the city of Exeter-a very paradise to the followers of Izaak Walton.
Resort of the red deer, it was, and still is, termed a forest, although trees, forsooth!-as in similar forests in Scotland-are as rare to meet with as men. The sides of the steep valleys are, for the most part, covered with coarse herbage, heather, and bilbury plants springing from a deep black peaty or red soil. And bogs, those terrible bugbears to strangers in the chase, are numerous: these, however, to an experienced eye are readily seen, being covered with a bright green herbage. Woe to him, however, who endeavours to cross one with impunity, or without the knowledge of the mode and manner of so doing, or he may chance to remain there as a future specimen of antiquity to the seeker for petrifactions.
These bogs are formed by springs, which being intercepted by a pan of sediment, and thus prevented from percolating through the soil, stagnate and cause at the same time decay and vicious vegetation. Nevertheless, they are seldom very deep, and can be reclaimed by subsoiling or otherwise breaking the pan, and so drying the upper layers of bog. Bog turf is largely employed on Exmoor for fuel, and is precious to the poor. On some precipitous descents winter torrents have washed away all the earth, leaving avalanches of bare loose stones, called in the West," crees." To descend these crees at a gallop, when
following hounds on a burning scent, requires no slight degree of nerve. Nevertheless, I have seen an amiable sportsman, no longer in his prime, given to the brownest of tops, in which, in my ignorance, I once believed that he slept, never having seen him in any other costume, perform the feat on a three-legged animal, in perfect safety. Such is hahit! The same horse would have possibly broken his neck on Newmarket Heath.
I know of few things more agreeable than an early ride over Exmoor Forest, such as I enjoyed the morning subsequent to my first gallop in pursuit of a red deer. And for the benefit of those who may desiro a similar enjoyment when bright and early autumn time comes round again, I will tell them, that after having enjoyed a comfortable night's rest in the admirable and comfortable hostelry at Lynmouth, I rose with the sun, and mounting my horse, rode along the lovely wooded vale by the charming spot known to all men of the West as the "Waters Meet." There, hidden almost by rich foliage and knarled oaks, on a lawn of velvet turf, washed literally by the waters of the sparkling Lynn, stands a commodious cottage. Secluded, indeed, is it, from the busy world-to many, doubtless, too secluded: for all that, a most charming summer residence to one who is not dependent on that world for the reasonable joys of life, having his own occupations and those of his heart around him. Pass onwards through this truly Alpine vale, some three or four miles, always on a gentle ascent, and behold a wide expanse of heatherclad moorland! Ride onwards, I say, in this early morning time, ere the dew has left the meadows, and perchance you may behold, as it was my good fortune, a noble wild stag reclining on the heather, guarding his precious harem, which consisted of three hinds and a fawn. Not long, however, did the gallant animal gladden my sight; for up rose he, the moment he caught sight of me, and having gazed at the in truder for a moment, turned, as much as to say to the ladies, "Be off;" and then slowly retreating, as a rear-guard, apparently to protect their flight from the enemy man, having gained an eminence, ere I could gallop to the spot, was far far away to the valley below, bounding over the trout stream in his stride, and disappearing in the distance.
I left you, my sporting friends, at the conclusion of my last page, in a somewhat similar, though far pleasanter, situation than that in which I found myself at the commencement. Alone on the wilds of of Exmoor for the time was sunrise, instead of moonlight-I had just beheld a wild red hart rise from its native lair, and bound across the heather land. In order to witness such exciting and picturesque little scenes as that I endeavoured to describe, you must be up and away with the dawn. Be it so; health, fine air, and early exhilaras ting exercise will add years to your life, utterly annihilate the blues, and leave you with an appetite for a breakfast such as I feel assured would not be refused to any wandering sportsman who might chance to pull the rein when arriving at Simonsbath, should the owner chance to be at home. Simonsbath, let me inform you, is on your direct line of country when riding across the moor to Dulverton, about the best meet of the hunt, the property of a most liberal and ardent sportsman; moreover, a first-rate agriculturist, and member of the British House of Commons, and one to whom all who desire that the noble wild deer of Exmoor should not be utterly destroyed are most immeasurably indebted.
After a sight of the deer peculiar to Exmoor, that perhaps of the greatest interest to the stranger is the ponies; and in a wild district such as I have named, little herds of them are not seldom seen clustered together a rare sight indeed for an artist, a pleasant one to any man who can fully appreciate the beauties of nature.
It was such a district, wild as the animals that range on its treeless waste, that came into the hands of the father of the sportsman to whom I have alluded. And what did energy of purpose, activity of mind, and a love for civilization, combined with agricultural pursuits, enable him to do?of course having the means. Why, he built a fence of forty miles around it, made roads, reclaimed a farm at Simonsbath, introduced Highland cattle on the moor, and greatly improved the indigenous race of ponies by crossing them with superior blood, as also of moorland horses, of which there are none in the world better for moorland purposes.
These improvements, on which an immense sum was sunk, was not profitable; and it is much to be doubted if they ever would have been so, if railways had not brought better markets within reach of the district, as well as rendered it possible for a more enterprising race than my dear friends the Devonians-for dreamy as they are, probably from the nature of the climate, and somewhat slow of comprehension withal, my heart yearns towards them and their county-to explore them. And so with the railways came strangers to the heather land, chiefly from the midland and northern counties; and such, for the most part, are the present tenants of the land.
Since the year 1841, the management of the estate has been, I understand, principally in the hands of the present proprietor, who in 1844 obtained the valuable services, as resident agent, of Mr. Robert Smith, formerly a celebrated breeder of pure Leicesters in Rutlandshire, one of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society, and author of prize essays on sheep and grass, which are justly held in high estimation by all practical men; I may add equally so is that gentleman himself by all sportsmen who chance to ride with him over the moor, cross his threshold, or desire an Exmoor pony.
A few words touching the little animals and the breed of horses, on the moor, and then adieu to Exmoor. Those who have derived any gratification by visiting the forest in my company may possibly not object to take a walk over Dartmoor when the new year commences. If so, he will find no wild deer there. There are not the less subjects of interest innumerable to him who merely seeks the beauties of nature and pleasant reminiscences of his country's history, as are there to the sportsman. There are also Dartmoor ponies and Dartmoor mutton, as well as Exmoor; and none better-speaking, however, more particularly of those of Exmoor.
I believe I am not incorrect in stating that an annual sale of Exmoor ponies did take place, and does still place yearly at Simonsbath; whether the race are as valuable as they were wont to be in former years, I will not presume to say; at all events, a sale of this nature is worth a very long day's journey to be present at. I perfectly recollect a very few years since travelling over the moor, from Linton to Dulverton, one fine August morning, with two first-rate sportsmen, when we visited a farm called Honeymead Farm, to inspect literally a herd
of ponies, of which one of my friends selected two beauties. The whole process of catching and handling these sagacious and hardy little animals was deeply interesting.
Having arrived at the farm--which was by no means prepossessing either from locality or cleanliness, or indeed apparent wealth-and made known our wishes to the tenant, an obliging but by no means enlightened member of moorland society, and requested permission to see his stock of ponies, the following scene occurred, which was replete with interest:
"Here, Darvid lad," said the farmer, calling to an urchin about eight years old; Here, Darvid lad, mount the ould mare, and driv' în some of they cowlts."
Now the colts on the moor, termed cowlts, or ponies in plain English, were nothing more or less than a herd of wild ponies, mares, geldings, and even stallions, from ten to one year old, which were feeding on the moor. But David, or Darvid, as he was termed, was evidently a master of his art, and had he been strong enough, doubtless could have thrown the lasso. As it was, he formed a most agreeable rough sporting picture when he appeared on the "ould mare," a rainbow-backed, ill-conditioned specimen of a three-parts blood mare, who had doubtless been an admirable beast in days long past.
However, the blood and pluck of the animal was sufficiently apparent as was that of the boy and his truly English riding, as with a long whip in his right-hand and an old snaffle in the other, with which he just felt the "ould mare's" mouth, he dashed across the road and on to the moor, over a slight declivity, and was out of sight in a moment. But soon some score of ponies, with heads erect, manes and tails flowing, evidently accustomed to Darvid's proceedings, were seen to gallop headlong up a steep combe, neighing loudly; and it is thus from running free on the moor these ponies obtain their beautiful action and extraordinary sureness of footing.
However, Darvid soon brought the whole cluster into submission, now galloping up almost impossible rocky ascents on the "ould mare" as were he on the softest turf, now down a stony crees, just catching one of the wildest and most frolicsome colts on the hind-quarters, and sending him back, with his legs in the air, and a stinger on his rough and woolly hide, to join his brethren; till the whole flock, gathered together like sheep, were driven nolens volens into a sheep-pen, surrounded by a rough stone-wall, snorting and plunging as wild as the moors from whence they came.
"Here they are, gentlemen," exclaimed the good-humoured tenant of Honeymead," of all ages and all colours-black, grey, and brown; take your choice: you have two score at least, to select from."
"No easy matter, my good friend," said I, approaching the lot now clustered in a corner of the pen, with heads over each other's shaggy shoulders, and ready to kick the wind out of anyone who approached
"True, gentlemen," said he, "they are not lambs--wild as hawks. For all that, a week in the stable, with good treatment, and they are the most docile of living critters. Observe, gentlemen, them two little brown darlings-a better match could not be-fetch any price for a
lady's phaeton, in Lonnon; carry children, or even men, across the moor any distance when required.'
True, there were many beautifully-shaped little creatures, wild as they were; but the farmer and David, to whose rough caresses they appeared well accustomed, rushed in amongst them fearlessly, dragged, now one, now two, to the front, as they would sheep to be sheared, and, having held them till we had time to examine their points and action, sent them spinning round the enclosure, David aiding their velocity of pace by a touch and a crack with his long whip.
We became or I should rather say one of my companions became the possessor of the two browns, and a more beautiful pair of small ponies I have rarely beheld. They were subsequently sent into training, and in ten days I sat behind them, and drove them in a light carriage up hill and down hill ten miles an hour Then they carried boys home for the holidays, and boys with the letter-bag. And one of these little animals I declare to have seen the best part of a run with foxhounds.
So much for Exmoor ponies. They are as hard as nails; will thrive on what other animals would starve: and careless indeed must be the rider who can throw them down if not cruelly overweighted. The larger ponies-more properly called Exmoor horses, though they rarely attain fifteen hands are equally good. I by no means venture to assert they would live with hounds in a fast or flat country; but in that in which they are born and bred, few can beat them, in a long and rough day's sport.
I hold that in whatever country a man finds himself, the horse bred in that country is the best adapted for man's service as his pleasures. I do not say that a thorough-bred horse, accustomed to the moor, would not beat a horse though bred on the moor. But these animals may be ridden with a loose rein upon the moor and heather land, up strong hills, down stony crees, over cramped fences, avoiding all bogs or swampy grounds, without a mistake, if left to do their duty; while the others will require constantly the eye, hand, and guidance of their rider, and will look for that, instead of trusting to their own sagacity; and the consequence is not seldom a fearful fall or half-an-hour in a bog. So now, for the present, adieu, beautiful Exmoor! I am off for the East, and then westward ho, for Dartmoor.
This course of pursuit must be classed by itself, constituting a sepa rate feature from the more general complexion of "field sports." It is of a bustling character, keeping the best energies of the shooter incessantly occupied, more particularly so when the covers, in which he is carrying out his work of slaughter, are intersected by narrow paths and causeways, which the rabbits are in the almost constant practice of crossing when they are beset by the menacing music of the dogs. So rapid is the transit of a rabbit when passing these defiles, that it requires