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28-Jul-2017 22:39

This is an account of the area from prehistoric times to the 20th century, with a special emphasis on the history of farming, accompanied by her drawings of farmsteads through the ages.

In her third and fourth books – Wild Harvest (1978) and My Moorland Year (1993) – Hope Bourne returned to the themes of Living on Exmoor, describing her experiences of farming, local lore, encounters with neighbours and the rhythm of the seasons.

Hope Lilian Bourne was born in Oxford on August 26 1918 (she claimed not to know her age, having lost her birth certificate), but in childhood was taken to Devon, where her widowed mother became headmistress of the village school at Elmscott, near Hartland.

Hope herself left school aged 14, and as an asthmatic remained at home with her mother, who in 1939 moved to the Cotswolds; there Hope worked on the land, but she missed the wildness of Devon.

In the early 1970s she began to contribute a weekly 1,000-word column to the West Somerset Free Press.

Every Friday she walked the three and a half miles from Ferny Ball into Withypool to collect the newspaper, along with her bread and mail, at the same time posting her article (again, handwritten in pencil) for the next issue.

To feed herself, as well as shooting for the pot, she fished and grew vegetables.

She ate 1lb of meat a day (some of which was none too fresh) and drank from a stream.

She told him: "I have never taken a penny from public money. I've told them this would be more than my entire income. You've got to be 100 per cent physically fit to live as I do. Whatever happens at Ferny Ball, I've got to cope with it alone." She eschewed the companionship of a dog, explaining that "my meat supply is so irregular that it couldn't feed a dog.

Although she chose geographical isolation, Hope Bourne had many friends, claiming to send out 100 Christmas cards each year.

When out and about on the moor she would call in at the farms, and her visits were reciprocated by the local community.

But as her asthma worsened, concerned friends persuaded her to move to a new house at a community housing scheme in Withypool.

Hope Bourne compared this to living in a city, an experience that was anathema: people who live in towns, she said, "all look so miserable".

For more than two decades – between 1970 and the early 1990s – Hope Bourne lived in isolation in an old, leaking caravan in the ruins of a farm at Ferny Ball above Sherdon Water, about four miles from Withypool.

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