Mark Beaumont goes on a journey through Exmoor, starting in Dulverton, where he finds out how Exmoor's iconic ponies are being saved from the verge of extinction.
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Today, I'm in the south-west of England
on a journey through the moorland landscape
and beautiful coastline of Exmoor.
'My journey starts in Dulverton
'where I'll find out how one of the region's iconic animals is being saved from the verge of extinction.
'I'll then head into the heart of the moors to track down a local legend -
'wildlife cameraman Johnny Kingdom.'
Just imagine if Mr Piggy comes, Mr Pig will be that big...
MAKES GRUNTING SOUNDS That'll be up there on my camera.
'I'll travel north to the coastal town of Lynmouth, the scene of Britain's worst post-war floods,
'discovering rumours of a sinister cause to this perhaps not so natural disaster.'
The sound of the river in full flood, the sound of the rocks crashing, it's frightening.
'Finally, as darkness falls, I'll head inland to Dunkery Hill,
'where I'll experience mountain biking as I've never experienced it before.'
Cycling while holding a camera is not easy on this terrain, but it's brilliant.
Along the way, I'll look back at some of the best BBC rural programmes
from this part of the country.
Welcome to Country Tracks.
Exmoor is a national park
whose 694 square kilometres of land straddle Somerset and North Devon.
Although it's famous for its rugged moorland, it also boasts 55 kilometres
of some of the most breathtaking coastline in the country.
Until 1818, this whole area was a royal forest and hunting ground.
But it was post-war hunting that brought one of Exmoor's most famous animals to the brink of extinction.
Ponies have been mentioned on Exmoor as far back as The Domesday Book,
but it's thought they originated from Alaska 130,000 years ago.
In that ancient time, they would have roamed this countryside
alongside animals like the sabre-toothed tiger.
The tigers may be long extinct, but these lovely ponies still graze these moors.
'Although they live wild, they are privately owned and I'm meeting a man
'who has made looking after them a lifetime's work with over 40 years as a farm manager in these hills.
'We're heading out to see the ponies in their natural habitat.'
How do you actually find a herd of ponies in such a vast moorland?
Well, you just drive around.
Years ago, when I came here first, we used to ride after 'em with ponies.
They're quite easy to find, especially at this time of the year when the bracken's very long.
-There we go. Is that a mare and foal?
-That's a mare and foal.
That foal still looks pretty shaky on its legs.
Yeah, that foal was only probably born yesterday.
They're tough-looking horses.
I mean, they're quite short. They've got a good build to them.
They're bred for being in the wild.
Oh, yes, they're certainly bred for living here
at 1,200 feet or whatever. We're 1,200, 1,300 feet above sea level.
It doesn't matter what weather gets thrown at them, snow, sleet, they'll live up here all right.
-All through the winter, they're fine?
-All through the winter. Very rarely have we ever had to feed them.
-How many horses have you got up here?
-We have about 40 mares and we run one stallion here.
-We're not very far away from them here. They don't seem to be very wild.
-When I came here 40 years ago,
you would come out and see the ponies, they were that blooming wild then, they would take off.
To read the numbers of them... This time you can, now they've slipped their coats a bit.
You'd have to have field glasses.
But over the years with a lot more people walking around and coming here on holiday,
people with dogs and children, the ponies have just accepted it.
After 40 years working with these ponies, you must have some fantastic memories.
I've got a very good photograph of the first branding we ever had.
-That's my mugshot in the middle with a lot more hair than I've got now.
-Is that you? Fantastic.
-And so you'd bring the ponies off the moor and this would be to mark them as part of the breed?
'Derek looks after the Anchor herd which are a pure Exmoor breed.
'They are descended from the Acland ponies, given as a parting gift
'to Sir Thomas Acland, the last royal warden of Exmoor in 1818.
'They were eventually sold on into the hands of the Green family,
'but in the 1940s, the entire herd was nearly wiped out
'and it was only thanks to the Greens that they survive today.'
Why were the ponies' numbers in such decline?
I think during the war there was a lot of ponies killed for meat. There's no question about that.
And we were lucky that none of our ponies here...
I don't think we lost any ponies, put it that way,
but I think it was through the Greens' alertness that the Anchor ponies were maintained.
I'm pretty sure and there is a story going round that some people were after some of the Anchor ponies,
-but the Greens certainly rescued them from the meat wagon.
-They could have ended up as wartime rations?
Well, they could have done.
Quite a number of people think they would have done if it hadn't been for the Green family.
Unfortunately, Exmoor ponies are still a rare breed,
but Derek is giving me a lift deeper into the hills
to meet some modern-day heroes doing their bit to make sure these magnificent creatures survive.
When Nicholas Crane visited the area, he headed for the coast
and found a much more extreme way of crossing Exmoor's challenging landscape.
It's 1953 and the world's highest mountain has been conquered
in a breathtaking 29,000-foot ascent.
The achievement prompted one mountaineer who had missed out on the Everest adventure
to plan a conquest of his own - not up, but along, and it was a lot more than 29,000 feet.
In his younger days, Clement Archer had been working in India when Everest was conquered.
It's thought that he had secretly hoped to join that expedition.
Instead, Archer pioneered a new concept here on the Exmoor coast.
Nowadays, we might call it "coasteering", a 14-mile climb along sea cliffs,
sandwiched perilously between pounding sea and sky.
The purists know this route as the Exmoor Traverse.
It runs from Foreland Point to Combe Martin,
nearly three times longer than the ascent of Everest.
And this route wasn't completed until 25 years after Everest.
In 1978, Terry Cheek and a team of three young police cadets finally conquered the Exmoor Traverse.
It took them four days and nights.
Their achievement has not been matched since.
30 years later, Terry and two of his team are back at the Exmoor Traverse.
Now, what is going on there?
You've got no ropes. You're creeping round under an overhang above the water,
wearing what looks like soggy jeans.
And it was flares back 30 years ago.
-You did this in flared jeans?
-Do you remember this part of it, Trevor?
-Yeah, and talking about the clothing, the boots were made
of like pressed cardboard with a rubber sole. They were very cheap.
And not very flexible to begin with.
Of course, they get saturated with water. It's almost like wearing papier mache!
It's a real challenge. If you don't get it right, you're cut off.
Without being over-dramatic, that may mean drowning.
What they call nowadays "risk assessment", I don't remember us using those words 30 years ago.
-I'm not sure there was one.
-No, or we wouldn't have done it.
'Terry was already an experienced climber in 1978.
'He's in his 60s now and still loves these cliffs.
'He's challenged me to take on a section of this daunting traverse.'
-The Exmoor Everest?
-The Exmoor Everest, yes.
-Shall we go down?
Doesn't sound like a walk in the park.
Below! Just kicked a rock down which is not good when you've got somebody below.
Terry, the nature of this route in rock-climbing terms is pretty bizarre, really, it seems to me,
because I associate climbing as going up mountains, not going horizontally along cliffs.
The climbing is much the same. You really set your own rules.
We set the rule of not entering the water and not climbing out on to the grass line above the rock.
This is probably one of the harder spots.
Because we're only about three feet above the high water mark now.
-So, only a couple of hours ago, the waves were bashing at the bottom of this?
-Just below my feet, yes.
This is a bit of a tricky move, isn't it, Terry?
It's quite difficult.
Yes, cling your hands underneath that spike.
-I'm clinging on to everything I can, I can tell you!
-You'll be OK there.
-Under here, it's all wet and slimy, covered in sea water.
-Yeah. Jam the hands up in that crack.
I know it's wet and it's painful.
It's very tricky now.
Some of the finger holds are really pretty minute, aren't they?
This is not quite as easy as... sitting at a desk,
working on my laptop, it has to be said.
If you get caught by a rising tide or a storm surge in the Bristol Channel, what do you do?
Once you've been driven above the high water mark, then you are in unknown territory.
You could be in absolute hell about 70 feet up on crumbling rock and vegetation.
We had to resort to climbing at night, waiting on the cliffs
for the tide to recede to get past a difficult section.
And it was freezing. We also discovered what barnacles could do to your hands.
It's like very rough, coarse sandpaper and it's very painful.
'I've only done a section of this climb and as we haul ourselves up the cliff, I'm feeling exhilarated.
'I've got nothing but admiration for the achievement of Terry and his team three decades ago.
'I'm left too with a new respect for the awesome cliffs and the fierce tides of the Severn Sea.'
'Nicholas Crane and an extreme way of crossing Exmoor's stunning coastline.
'My Exmoor journey has taken me to Dulverton
'where I'm parting company with farm manager Derek Sparks
'and making my way to the Moorland Mousie Trust, a refuge for Exmoor's famous ponies.'
The Trust takes its name from popular children's books written in the '30s about these ponies.
It's been re-homing unwanted Exmoors for just over a decade.
I'm really keen to get hands-on experience and see what they do here
but rather strangely, I've been told the only thing I'll need is this.
'Farming these ponies is a commercial enterprise.
'They go to market where they're sold as grazing animals.
'Even though classed as a rare breed, before the Trust was set up,
'the surplus animals which didn't sell could end up in pet food or exported as meat.
'Now, thanks to the work of Linzi Green and her colleagues, there is another option.'
-Hi, you must be Linzi.
-I am. Hello.
What are you doing? What's the duster?
The duster is to show this little foal that being approached by me isn't so scary
and also when we first start handling our foals,
it's an extension of our arm to keep me nice and safe,
so that if he wanders off, I can keep the duster with him until he stands still,
so that he realises, "OK, this isn't too bad."
When they come to us, they're quite nervous, quite worried
and it's our job to show them that being approached and touched by people can actually be nice.
I also noticed that you're not looking at him.
I'm not. We use a lot of body language to stay non-threatening to the ponies,
just to, at this stage with them,
just to make sure that we're using all the right tools, so that they can learn that we're not too bad.
Do you know where a pony like this will end up?
A pony like him is probably going to end up in a foster home or a grazing site.
We try to get as many of our ponies into foster homes as possible.
We're always looking for homes that can continue their training
and they can then become... Good boy. ..nice riding ponies
or working ponies, family ponies, because they have all the right qualities for being in a home.
It's giving them the skills to live a domestic life with families or in other homes.
'I'm keen to have a go at training a pony myself.
'Linzi thinks they're too dangerous for me to work with.
'Instead, she starts me off on Jaeger
'who has been here for two weeks and is ready to move on to the next stage of training.'
You want to pick one of your dusters
and you're going to turn, so that your right hand is going towards him.
It doesn't need to touch him. It can go into thin air, then come away.
-Then just bring the duster over in a nice movement.
It doesn't need to be too slow, and then away. And again.
-You can see from his ears that he's not unhappy.
-He's quite inquisitive.
-There we go.
He seems remarkably relaxed.
Does this mean that I have the magic touch or is he calmer than most?
No, you're doing all the right things and you're using the techniques that he's used to,
so he says, "I don't know you, but I know the method." It's working well.
-What was he like when he first came in?
-He was a lot different to this.
He was quite a jumpy pony.
It did take several sessions before he would allow us to touch around his face and wear a head collar.
They're such characters. They're so loveable, aren't they?
You can see that as long as they're safe to be around, they're going to make fantastic companions.
Absolutely. Every pony is an individual.
They all have their own personalities and they're great ponies.
Well, cyclist? Yes. Country Tracks presenter? Yes.
And I can now add horse whisperer as well.
'These ponies adapt well to human contact, but there is a much wilder side to life on Exmoor -
'other animals who roam the moors avoiding humans wherever possible.
'One man who made it his business to track them is local legend and cameraman Johnny Kingdom.'
I'm Johnny Kingdom. I've been filming wildlife now for over 30 years.
This is my home - Exmoor.
The deer is so important to Exmoor.
I believe in getting out there and seeing the deer in their natural habitat,
seeing them feed, seeing them mate and seeing them play. That's what I think of the red deer of Exmoor.
The only way to get close to the deer is to stalk them
and the best time to do that is early in the morning.
Today, I'm going to look for this certain nasty stag which I've met before.
I want to show you him roaring.
This is what they do in the autumn.
This is when it could be dangerous. It's foggy.
You may walk right into the stag, so this is a chance you're taking.
This big, black stag is down here somewhere, so we've got to be very careful we don't walk right into him.
If we do, he'll charge us. I'm just telling you.
My best chance to find him is here on Molland Common.
What I'm trying to do now is I'm listening to hear this big stag, to locate where he's stood.
If we can hear the roar, it will give me a rough idea of which way to approach it.
He's a stag that I came very close to last year
and what I want to do this year is get closer than ever to show you the lovely shot of a big stag roaring.
But this is the way I do it. I just stand on top of the moor and wait for him to call.
Right, do you hear that?
I think we'll get ready and start to move right now.
What I do... Wait a minute.
The way I do this is to cover my face because it shines, right?
Come with me. Come this way. Come on.
Keep right behind me.
You've got to bend down. Bend down low if you can.
If you're out looking for stags, be very careful because these animals can kill you.
Especially in the month of October. This is the time of their rutting season, when they're mating.
Right, get down.
WHISPERING: There he is.
My big beast.
That's the sod that chased me last year.
He's going left to right.
Oh, my God. He could have seen me.
This is when you want a tripod, you see.
What a beast!
Very, very hard to film, you know.
Just look at this.
This is where a stag will mark his territory.
This here was done a month ago, rubbing the velvet off.
This is fresh. This is the rut. That's the difference, you see.
They rub the velvet off, sharpen the points, then mark their territory.
That's why this is fresh.
There's deer all the way round us now, but we're going to look for this big, black stag again.
This is a very crafty stag.
This is the worst stag I ever stalked in my life.
I'm shaking like hell because I'm very close to it, you know?
There, you can see his points.
Very old stag.
That's a beautiful shot.
He's going around now to pick his hinds.
He's collected all his hinds together.
This stag now will stay with his hinds and wait until each one comes into season.
One stag can take 30 hinds, if not more. Hard to believe, but it's true.
Gosh, he's gone like a rocket.
That's your problem on Exmoor.
Two other stalkers, look.
Making things very difficult.
It takes a long, long time to get these shots.
I've got a shot of him, but I haven't got a shot of him roaring,
so, the next few weeks, I shall try and keep following until I get that shot.
'My journey today has brought me deep into the Exmoor hills to meet the man himself - Johnny Kingdom.'
I want to find out what it is about this place and the wildlife that is so special to him
and also discover the secrets to capturing some of the wildlife in action.
And what better place to find him than in his natural habitat -
a home-made hide miles from anywhere.
Hello there. Hi, Mark. Where have you been, boy?
Come right up here. Come on.
-How are you doing?
-You come and see what I've just done, mate. Nice to meet you.
-It's quite an entrance.
-Yeah, it's a bit high up.
-It's like a big boys' treehouse.
-Look out through there. It's a good old view out there.
It's a wonderful vantage point. You're four or five metres up here?
You can see down over the woodland. It's a good time of year to look out because there's not many leaves.
That's right. And I've picked a place where there's not many trees in the centre as well.
I found the old rotten stump down there. That looked like a good feeding base.
The old badger likes to dig a bit, so I go down there with a shovel
and I dig my food and I bury it, then I hope to see the animal come along and dig it all up.
It sounds silly, really, but that's how you keep an animal in one spot.
Out the front here I can see a wire. What's that on the tree there?
-That's a cable that goes to my wide-angle camera.
-And there's another wire going down to the camera down there. That's a close-range one.
WHISPERING: They disagree when there's not much food left like that.
It is very strange. With the animals, you've got to work on it.
This hide, I've worked on it for a long, long time.
Before I even put the hide up, I put some more food around the area. I was working on it all the time.
I thought when this hide goes up, then it'll come running to action.
-In under 24 hours I had my first badger.
That's incredible. Then I had a roe deer.
You know what I mean? You've just got to work on it.
WHISPERING: This is a wild boar.
One of the shiest animals you can film.
It's pretty cosy in here. You wouldn't want too many people in here for too long.
-How long do you spend in here?
-Five or six hours.
-To me, that's nothing. I'll come back here this afternoon. There's a few jobs I want to do.
I've been married for 48 years. That's why we're still together because I'm never home.
-Hiding in your hides.
-I love it.
'Johnny's been capturing Exmoor's wild animals on film for over 20 years.
'But even with his years of experience, sitting and waiting isn't always enough.'
-So you've got pigs' food? Are we feeding pigs?
-Not really, no.
Well, it could be, but it's mainly for the badger.
We're going to work right here.
-OK, what I want you to do, look...
-You've been here before?
-Let me just show you.
-You watch this.
Just like that. You see?
Just like that. And you bury that in for me.
-You see, like that? Just bury that in with the shovel. Shovel that into there.
Yeah, in there. You carry on. You're doing a good job.
What's this hanging down here, Johnny?
Oh, I forgot about that. Sorry.
Now, that's important. That's a little microphone.
Because just imagine if Mr Piggy comes.
Mr Pig will be that big. HE GRUNTS
That'll be up there on my camera, you see. Same with the badger.
MIMICS BADGER SOUNDS You can hear him chewing.
I want the noises of the animal.
I'm hoping the wild boar or any animal that comes will be eating away like this.
-And the camera's there on the tree, look. See?
That's right in here. I told you at the top.
That's the stump we saw. That camera's showing that close-range.
'All this is a far cry from where Johnny started out.
'As a young man, he worked as a lumberjack and even a gravedigger.'
I want to get one right underneath.
So after gravedigging, how did you get into filming wildlife?
-A man lent me a camera.
-Listen to this little story.
My mate Roger Gregory said, "Take my camera." The only camera where I lived. "Take it on the moors.
"Let's see if you can film some deer." I went on the top of Exmoor up there.
To the big stone on Anstey Common. I parked there. I took out my binoculars and I saw my target.
About half a mile away.
I got down on all fours like you do in the forces. Like this, see?
With your camera like this. Push your camera right in front of you like that. Right?
I got to the wire, I turned the camera on. It was about 25 yards away.
I could see in that viewfinder I'd got some brilliant shots. I could not wait to get home.
Plugged into the television and I was watching it come on and there was all the heather.
I said, "I can't remember doing that. I didn't film no heather!"
And then I had the stones in the river! Then I had the gorse, then the wire fence. Guess what happened.
When I started, I turned it on and when I went to film the deer, I put it off. I got nothing!
So you were hooked from the start. The first time you tried to film deer, you thought, "I'll go back."
-Yes, that was the turning of my life.
-From gravedigger to lumberjack and now wildlife cameraman/presenter.
-It's quite a varied career.
-Yeah. I've quite enjoyed it. I loved it.
-I can imagine.
'Getting back to nature with Johnny and seeing his new hide close up has been a fantastic experience,
'but as Jules Hudson found out, building in a national park is often a much more contentious issue.'
Don't be fooled by the graceful sweep of its acres or by the charm of its too pretty villages.
There's a storm brewing on Exmoor.
It's all because of this innocuous, classic post-war bungalow.
It's not that special or pretty. It's not even listed.
But it has lit the proverbial blue touch paper on an almighty row.
It all began three years ago when the National Park Authority bought this property
with plans to demolish it, but they hadn't reckoned with Molly Groves.
Molly, you really have kicked up quite a fuss with this property,
but the good news is it's no longer going to be knocked down.
-Why were they going to knock it down?
-The idea was, apparently,
that they were going to improve the view from two walks.
What the point of improving the view by demolishing a house is I cannot imagine.
This was a property many local people wanted to buy,
but the Parks bought with a view to re-wilding the area, to remove it from the landscape.
This is a perfectly habitable home. Why remove something perfectly habitable, seem from hardly anywhere,
to knock it down when people desperately need homes?
'The National Park promised to renovate Blackpitts, but it's still not fit to live in,
'adding to local people's housing woes. I've come to see Richard Floyd and his fiancee Emma.
'They're about to have their first child and need somewhere to live.
'In the meantime, they're living on his mum's land in this caravan.'
-You put your name on the list for Blackpitts, with numerous others.
-What have you heard?
Very little. We've heard it would be up for let in August.
-Not entirely sure which August!
-That's the question to ask them!
Exactly. But that's all we've been told so far.
No idea if it would be affordable for local people or if it'll be for anybody.
What other avenues have you tried?
Everything. We went in for a mortgage, to see if we'd get one.
-It's not happening.
We've inquired about planning permission in the village here.
The National Park came back and said the village was exempt from building.
If it's discreet, for a local person why can't you build on your own land?
'It's a sentiment that runs deep among the local community.
'Nathan Exley is also struggling for somewhere affordable to live. His hopes are on temporary housing.'
There is places where farmers would allow me to build a log cabin
if only we could get planning permission.
I like the idea of a log cabin. They say you can build them for £30,000-£40,000.
I've got ground which people would allow me to do that for little or no money, I think.
'Unless this situation changes, Nathan can see no future for his young family here on Exmoor.'
If you want to live in this area and do this kind of work... I can't go into an office and do 9 to 5.
..then sacrifices have to be made, I suppose.
Well, it's tricky, isn't it? Exmoor is a very nice place to live.
No surprise, then, that average house prices here are nearly 60% higher than the national average.
Even affordable housing is often out of range for many on an agricultural wage.
So what is wrong with building some temporary housing in a corner of a field to ease the housing crisis?
Well, you can't just build where you like in a national park,
but locals say affordable homes aren't being built.
Many say, "You're not letting us build what we want to build where we live and work."
Well, I'd say to that we've got some fantastic countryside here.
And in other parts of England and Wales as well.
It's been national policy for the last 60 years to restrict development in the open countryside.
That applies in the National Park and outside it. What we're trying to do is meet local need,
but within that policy framework.
That does mean building homes
next to or adjacent to settlements or converting existing buildings
so we're looking not to add to a general sprawl of development,
but to focus development in a way that helps us to maintain and enhance the wider countryside.
I can understand the frustration and concerns. People who love and have lived here want to stay here,
where they've got connections. We can understand that,
and we really want to get into a more positive dialogue
and how can we use the existing policies to meet the needs of the people who definitely have a need.
Do you think that conservation is overtaking...
-the need to conserve communities?
-I do have that feeling.
I do have that feeling that now it is biased too far on the side of conservation.
I'm not against national parks. They're absolutely right.
But I think now we have gone far too far on the conservation side
and, let's face it, what's wrong with conserving the indigenous people as well as the heather and all that?
Molly's campaign has enlisted the help of a local MP
who is taking their battle all the way to Westminster.
It's a battle with national implications and a question that goes to the heart of rural life:
what comes first - beautiful views or vibrant and viable communities?
'My journey has brought me to the Devon coast
'where I'll be exploring the twin villages of Lynmouth by the sea and Lynton, high up on the cliff.'
Lynmouth is a name that for many lives long in the memory.
Today it's an idyllic seaside town,
but in the 1950s it was the scene of the worst flooding in post-war Britain.
These floods claimed many lives and ripped the community apart.
Oh, I remember it vividly.
On the day of the flood, the Friday, there was torrential rain.
We could see something was going to happen, but nowhere near like it did happen.
'Roy Pugsley was a 19-year-old builder when, on the 16th of August, 1952,
'torrential storms blew in across the moors, bringing with them 9 inches of rain in just 24 hours.'
I think the sound, the sound of the river in full flood,
the sound of the rocks crashing. It was like an express train, the old steam trains,
going through a wayside station at speed. It's a frightening noise.
'A torrent of water burst the banks of the River Lyn,
'cascading down onto Lynmouth, which lay helplessly below.
'Roy knows all too well the horror that followed.'
-It happened at night, so what were your first memories?
-It was as far as you could see
it was pitch dark, no street lights.
The rainstorm made it
very cloudy and foggy that you couldn't see anything.
All you could see was the river in front of you. All you could see was a roaring mass of water.
So you couldn't see any houses falling in the river because you couldn't see that far in front.
-Describe the next morning when daylight came and you saw the destruction.
It was impossible to know where to start.
The roads were washed away, bridges were washed away. Everything was covered with rocks and boulders
and trees and everything was just smothered.
You'd see a tree sticking in somebody's front window,
or something like that. Absolutely frightening.
-34 people lost their lives.
Did you know at the time that houses had been taken away, that people were going to...?
Yes, at the end of the night we realised one or two houses had been destroyed because we saw them.
I myself was in the little road up there, the footpath up there, looking down on a big hotel.
-We watched that collapse in the sea.
-A couple of the houses had complete families in them.
-And you knew them.
-Oh, yes. One was a building worker, Mr Bill Richards. He lost his...
I think he went back in the house
to get the children and his wife and their handbags and what have you, and it was all too late.
And another was three old people.
They lived in very poor old tumbledown cottages,
but they were cottages that people lived in and they were at the edge.
They'd seen the floods before and the principle was to put the chairs on top of the kitchen table,
roll the mat up and go to bed.
I'm afraid it was a lot bigger flood than they'd ever been through before.
-It must have been an incredibly tough thing to come to terms with.
Nobody... You couldn't even imagine it.
It was one of these things that nobody had ever seen anything...
Other than the Blitz in London or in any big city,
but to be a little village here, it was absolutely frightening.
'Slowly, the village began to recover and rebuild,
'but persistent rumours started to emerge that maybe Lynmouth's floods weren't simply an act of God.'
Within months, incredible claims started to circulate about a secret military experiment,
codename Operation Cumulus.
The Ministry of Defence conducted secret cloud seeding experiments,
dropping silver iodine crystals into clouds to make it rain.
The idea was to create bad weather on demand to repel possible enemy forces.
'The authorities initially denied these experiments were taking place,
'but in 2001 new documents and RAF log books were uncovered,
'along with an interview with a pilot carrying out the experiments further inland.
'The interview makes fascinating listening.
'We'd assembled at Cranfield in Bedfordshire in mid-August, 1952,
'There was no disguising the fact that the seedsman had said he'd make it rain and he did,
'The combined enterprise attracted a lot of attention.
'The BBC television unit visited us to make a film and explain the probable advantages to the world
'of a controlled rainfall.
'The day before the programme was due, the rain fell with unprecedented vigour and washed Lynmouth away.'
'The programme was never broadcast and no link was ever proven between these two events,
'but it's not the only question about the floods that's unanswered.'
Lynmouth buried its dead, but only 33 were named.
The 34th victim is buried here in this cemetery.
It was the body of a young woman, but to this day nobody knows who she was.
'I'm continuing my journey by leaving Lynmouth and travelling 900 feet up to the village of Lynton.'
To get there, I'll be using a train to take the strain and quite an unusual one at that.
The Lynton-Lynmouth cliff railway is one of the oldest examples of mechanised green transport.
It carries over 300,000 people up and down this cliff face every year,
powered only by gravity and water.
'And the man in charge of it all is Chief Engineer Ashley Clarke.'
The driver has contacted the other driver at the top and you'll hear the water start going out.
-We'll become lighter, the top car will become heavier.
-There it is!
So what was it that caused this to be here in the first place?
It was an idea of a guy called Sir George Newnes.
He used to holiday in the area and fell in love with Lynton and Lynmouth.
All the goods used to come in via ship into Lynmouth harbour,
and was loaded onto carts and pack horses had to drag it up to Lynton, a one in four hill.
He hated to see the horses thrashed to haul this to Lynton.
It IS incredibly steep. So this was originally quite a secluded community.
Everything had to be dragged up.
It's got to be a lot quicker as well than using pack animals to get up the hillside.
-It is amazingly steep. That view is quite something.
We don't... There's transport which will drive up the hill now,
so we don't need to use it for heavy goods. It is mainly people that we carry nowadays.
'Thanks to the cliff railway, the appeal of Lynton and Lynmouth boomed
'and Victorian holidaymakers called these villages Little Switzerland of England.
'Now when Matt Baker visited the area, getting around was very much a matter of horse power.'
Horses have been an integral part of life on Exmoor for centuries,
but today they don't pull ploughs, bit people.
Horseboarding is the latest horse-powered extreme sport and it's pretty hair raising!
'Daniel Fowler-Prime first decided to bring a horse and board together in this unique way four years ago.
'A trained horse rider, he was looking for a new challenge and created this groundbreaking sport.
'He and his brother Tom take part in horseboarding competitions all over the UK.'
Daniel, how are you doing? That was unbelievable!
Where on earth did it come from, this idea? It looks pretty crazy if you don't mind me saying.
Originally, horseboarding was used as a method of training horses for horse surfing.
You tow a surfboard along shallow water, which can be a lake or a river or whatever.
But then this came to be more accessible for people so it's taking off in a better way.
-Is it harder for the rider or the boarder?
-You need a good rider,
-but your board rider takes all the knocks.
-Sounds delightful(!) Have you had any major incidents?
Not a lot of major injuries because you don't have a long way to fall,
but a lot of bruises, grass burns,
a few sprained wrists and that sort of thing.
-But when you do stay on, what does it feel like?
The competitions are unbelievable. It's drag racing with horses.
-How does a competition work? Is there a measured track?
-We race over a 100-metre drag strip.
So you have two lanes, A and B.
The winning team gets two points, the losing team one, and if you fall off, you don't get any points.
Daniel, I would love a go and I've brought a competitor, Jules.
I guess we just get training, eh?
'Now Jules and I are both accomplished riders,
'but riding a board behind a horse is something we've never attempted.'
Look at us, eh?
It's not exactly classic country wear, but I'm glad we're wearing it!
-So, Daniel, what happens from here. We've got the horse roped up.
The next thing is to get you on the board.
When the horse is going, try to stay as in line with it as possible.
You bend your knees and you put weight on your toes. You don't want to lift your heels.
What everybody should do is that from the floor.
-So I'm going first, then.
-Good luck, mate.
Oh, I'm gone! See you later.
Oh, we're going. I tell you what, this is brilliant!
We are at canter and we're going strong!
All right, then. Try a walk?
-There you go. You're off.
-Oh, my goodness, me!
-Try to turn in to the horse.
-Trying to turn in to the horse...
He's definitely gone into the rough there!
This is the best 4x4 by far!
-Baker, you are better than I am!
-OK! This is it. Take it away, girls.
We're off, we're off. A gentle start to start with.
Hang on, we're behind! Go on!
That's lovely, keep it going.
Go on! I'm still here!
Takes it! Delighted! I don't know what happened to Jules.
-What happened to you, man?!
-It was all going so well.
-Where are the boys?
-In you come.
-I thought you were going to have him.
-I did, too!
-A very big thank you to Rohan.
-The stars of the show.
Taking a bow, there you are.
'I've travelled back inland and I'm ending my journey on a high,
'the highest point on Exmoor, Dunkery Hill, where I'm about to have my own encounter
'with extreme sports. I'm about to discover the nocturnal thrills this area has to offer.
'Night mountain biking.'
But first here's the Country Tracks weather for the week ahead.
'I'm on a journey across the rugged moorlands and dramatic coastline of Exmoor.
'I started in the south-east at Dulverton,
'before heading deep into the moors to meet local legend Johnny Kingdom.
'Moving on to the north Devon coast, I discovered the tragic and fascinating histories
'between the twin towns of Lynmouth and Lynton. Now I've travelled back inland to Dunkery Hill
'where my journey's drawing to an end.'
Well, the sun is setting, but I'm promised that there's a lot more that Exmoor has to offer.
So I'm finishing my journey by trying out the new craze of night mountain biking.
'I'm joining Dan French, who's been riding on these moors all his life
'and now makes a living showing the region's thrill-seeking tourists the more extreme side of Exmoor.
'I've held the world record for cycling around the world, but never thought of night riding as fun.'
Well, I've come dressed for the part, but it's not the sort of cycling that I'm used to.
-What am I in for?
-Right, we're going to do some night mountain biking.
Up here on Exmoor we've got over 400 miles of bridle way,
so there's loads to choose from.
-We have strong lights on the front.
-I have literally never done this,
riding off-road at night. Surely it's a lot harder as you can't see what's coming up ahead?
All you've got is that pocket of light in front of you. That's where your focus is.
That's what I'm worried about - a sixth sense I'm not sure I have. We'll soon find out!
Well, I'm kitted up
and ready to go. It's a totally new experience for me. I've not mountain biked in ages
and never at night, so it looks fairly interesting terrain. I'm sure these guys will look after me.
I've got a camera to try to capture some of the action. We've got last light.
It'll be dark soon. Let's go.
OK, let's speed up a wee bit.
-Dan, is this a typical night up here?
-Well, we're pretty lucky with the weather here tonight.
Look how clear it is. It's amazing.
It's now too dark to use the normal camera. We're onto night cam.
And you can actually see quite a lot with this headlight of the bike.
And, well, cycling while holding a camera is not so easy on this terrain, but it's just brilliant.
It gives you definitely a new insight into this territory, being up here at night.
First night ride.
That was absolutely excellent. That was a real first for me.
You could actually see a lot more than I thought you'd be able to
and riding from sunset into what is now completely dark... I can see the moon rising.
You just feel completely alone up here. Except for these guys.
That was just brilliant. Thank you.
-This is the top of Exmoor.
-Yeah, Dunkery Beacon. We've done well.
I enjoyed it. Absolutely superb.
'What better place to end my journey than here at Dunkery Beacon
'on the very top of the moors?
'I always thought of Exmoor as just that - the moors.
'But as I've discovered, there's much more this area has to offer.
'From its unspoilt coastlines to its villages, steeped in history and mystery.'
As I've found out, it's a place with lots to explore. Even after dark.
-I guess it's downhill from here?
Subtitled by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd - 2011
Email [email protected]
Mark Beaumont goes on a journey through Exmoor. He starts his journey in Dulverton, finding out how Exmoor's iconic ponies are being saved from the verge of extinction.
Heading into the heart of the moors, Mark tracks down a local legend - wildlife cameraman Johnny Kingdom. In Lynmouth, Mark hears personal testimony from a man who experienced the devastating flood of 1952, and discovers rumours of an unnatural cause of this disaster.
Journey's end finds Mark experiencing night-time mountain biking at Dunkery Hill.