Iona’s memorial mystery

The war memorial on the island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland stands by the eastern shore near the ferry.  At a passing glance it looks quite ordinary, but in fact it contains a surprise.

Iona war memorial

Iona war memorial

There are two panels bearing the names of 19 men who died in the Second World War and only one panel naming the 11 who died in the First World War.  This is most unusual, for the total casualties in World War I far exceeded those of World War II.

The west panel with names from World War I

The west panel with names from World War I

We spoke to local people and asked at the Heritage Centre.  People speculated but no one knew the answer.  We then contacted Mrs Mairi MacArthur of the New Iona Press, whom the Heritage Centre had recommended as a historian of Iona.  She said that she had never been asked about this before.

The north panel with names from World War II

The north panel (left) and south panel (right) with names from World War II

The south panel, with names from World War II



Mairi said that the census of April 2011 showed that the Iona population was 222, of whom 104 were male.  A good proportion of them were either too young or too old to enlist for active service.  Also, many of the people counted in the census, such as boarded-out children and teenagers, and farm servants or labourers, in fact came from the mainland, and so would not have been included on the war memorial.  When it came to the Second World War, the island’s total population was a bit smaller but there were fewer boarded-out children and farm labourers so the pool of potential war-recruits had a bigger proportion of Iona natives.

Mairi hopes to do further research on this so I may provide more information in due course.

The war memorials on the front of Henley-on-Thames town hall show the more usual proportion, the First World War casualties are above the Second World War ones in these photos, and greatly outnumber them.

Henley town hall, with World War II names below those of World War I

Henley town hall, with World War II names below those of World War I

The memorial on Henley town hall



However, the Iona memorial has opened my eyes and when I was recently at Nobel House in Smith Square, London, for a meeting, I photographed the war memorials there.  (The building is now occupied by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and was formerly the Ministry of Agriculture.)  The memorials show 38 deaths in World War I and 43 in World War II.  I haven’t worked out why and unfortunately there is no helpful Mairi MacArthur to whom I can put this question.

The World War I memorial in Nobel House

The World War I memorial in Nobel House

The World War II memorial in Nobel House

The World War II memorial in Nobel House











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Heather on chalk, a rare thing

There is a place on top of the South Downs where, unusually, acid-loving heathland plants thrive on alkaline chalk.  It is Lullington Heath national nature reserve.

I was up at 5am last month, when I was staying in Alfriston, north-west of Eastbourne  in East Sussex, to visit Lullington Heath.  I approached from the west, climbing the hill from Lullington Court north of Litlington, with views opening out all around.  The reserve is rectangular and I arrived first at Winchester’s Pond on the western side.  From this high point there is a fine view north-west along the downs to Firle Beacon, and I could even see the egregious wind-turbine at Glyndebourne as a white stalk.

View to Firle Beacon

View to Firle Beacon

Winchester’s Pond is an old dewpond, created as a water supply for the sheep flocks.

I walked around the reserve anti-clockwise.  Later I found Natural England’s leaflets in a box which I would have encountered sooner had I approached from the east; these describe a walk the other way round.  Fortunately it didn’t matter much.

I headed south down a track and soon came to what I later learnt is an automated monitoring-unit which contributes to national information on air pollution levels.  I turned left down a slope with deep vegetation where I believe I heard a garden warbler with its seemingly endless song (if so, probably the only one I’ll hear this year).  Then I followed the edge of Friston Forest to the south of the reserve and turned north-east, up onto the heath where I saw some heather and gorse, indicative of acid soils deposited on the chalk. The views were lovely and I could hear stonechat, linnets and meadow pipits chattering away.  It certainly felt like heathland.

Looking south towards the sea

Looking south towards the sea

The land is grazed by cattle some of the time, hence the fencing in the photograph above. There is a right of access over the whole reserve.  It was mapped as access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act but, in any case, Natural England is dedicating access to all its national nature reserves—a fine example to others.

I joined the main track and walked west back towards Winchester’s Pond to the scratchy song of whitethroats, the track winding away ahead.

Looking west along the track

The view west along the track

The arable land to my right showed just how small and vulnerable Lullington Heath is—a tiny natural island in a sea of agricultural improvement.

The contrast between Lullington Heath to the left and the arable land to the right

The contrast between Lullington Heath to the left and the arable land to the right

I turned off to wander south down a valley leading back to my earlier route.  The woods were full of bird song.


The valley

But I needed to get back for breakfast, and so I returned up the hill to the track and headed back, noting on the way down the lynchets, the remains of a Celtic field-system, on the side of the adjoining hill, Deep Dean.



There are still pockets of unimproved chalk (rightly marked as access land on the Ordnance Survey map) on the steep slopes.

web Lullington 7

As I approached Litlington I met a couple coming up, endeavouring to follow a written description of a circular walk taking in the nearby Wilmington Hill and Long Man.  They were struggling because the description wasn’t too clear without a map.  It turned out they had obtained this from the swish Deans Place Hotel in Alfriston where they were staying. It’s a pity such a grand hotel couldn’t even provide a map, but I sent them in the right direction and suggested they make a detour to enjoy the incomparable Lullington Heath.

Sketch map of Lullington Heath

Sketch map of Lullington Heath



Posted in Birds, National parks, Natural England, Natural history, South Downs National Park | Tagged , | 4 Comments

A unique record

It was a nice coincidence that the Recording Britain exhibition was at Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery (on tour from the Victoria and Albert Museum) when I visited the town on 26 April for the Spirit of Kinder event. The 1932 Kinder trespass occurred a few years before the Recording Britain project started, but I felt they were connected, for the Kinder trespassers were campaigning for our freedom to roam on open country, and Recording Britain helped to ensure that these grand places were protected.

Recording Britain was initiated by Kenneth Clark at the start of the second world war, when more than 90 artists were commissioned to depict our nation’s prime features.  These included fine tracts of landscape, towns and villages where buildings were about to be pulled down, parish churches and country houses and their parks.

Most of the paintings are in watercolour, which Clark was keen to preserve as an artform, though Graham Sutherland and Paul Nash, as war artists, used other media.  The aim was to boost the national morale at time of war, and to highlight those places which were threatened from development and industrialisation.  It is an invaluable and beautiful record.

Some artists focused on their home patch.  Charles Knight (1901-90) from Ditchling in East Sussex chose to document the South Downs.  He recorded the 25-mile-long road between Milton Street and Edburton, running below the escarpment.  His work was used to defend the area from developers in 1940 and again when a bypass was planned in 1954.

Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997) on the other hand travelled from his home in Essex to his native Yorkshire, Wales and Derbyshire.  At Ashopton, Derbyshire, he made an urgent record before the valley was flooded by the Ladybower Reservoir.

Grainfoot Farm, Derwentdale, Derbyshire, 1940 by Kenneth Rowntree.  Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Grainfoot Farm, Derwentdale, Derbyshire, 1940 by Kenneth Rowntree. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition is accompanied by a 1940s film from the Pathé Archive, made by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (now the Campaign to Protect Rural England), which recognises the threats to the countryside and advocates the creation of national parks, a decade before they became a reality.

In stark contrast, there are some works by the Guyanese-born Ingrid Pollard (1953-). Her Pastoral interlude 1987 consists of photographs and words, signifying isolation and exclusion.

It’s as if the black experience is only lived within an urban environment.  I thought I liked the Lake District; where I wandered lonely as a black face in a sea of white.  A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease; dread … feeling I don’t belong.  Walks through leafy glades with a baseball bat by my side … 

It made me realise the value of the Campaign for National Parks’ Mosaic project, which has for the past 15 years been working with a range of communities to encourage and enable people from diverse backgrounds to enjoy and appreciate national parks.  It has been hugely successful, and as a result there are many more people who now visit the countryside without unease, dread, or fear of not belonging.

Recording Britain is on until 2 November 2014.  Entry is free.  I recommend a visit.

Posted in Art, National parks | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Good and bad path-practice in West Berks

Yesterday with my two friends, Drusilla and Mary, I ventured into West Berkshire, for a six-mile walk in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I saw examples of good and bad practice in path maintenance.

We started at Snelsmore Common, north of Newbury and followed ramble 11 (Winterbourne Village and Boxford Common) in the East Berkshire Ramblers’ book Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down.  All credit to David Bounds and Dave Ramm for a well-described and interesting walk.

The route takes in the hamlets of Winterbourne and Bagnor, the woods of Snelsmore Common and Boxford Common, and cross-field paths with extensive views over the Kennet, Lambourne and Winterbourne valleys and the downs beyond.

Well-restored cross-field path east of Winterbourne

Well-restored cross-field path east of Winterbourne

The footpath from Winterbourne Holt to Winterbourne, which strikes out over a number of fields, is a fine example of how cross-field paths should be (see photo above), with a firm, wide surface.  The path problems were largely overgrowth: with councils slashing their path budgets, vegetation clearance is likely to be reduced.

However, I was annoyed by the anti-dog stiles at Boxford Common.  There is a sign on them inviting people to keep dogs on leads, so the owner knows that dog-walkers come here.

Unfriendly stile

Unfriendly stile

web dog sign

But he then makes it difficult and cumbersome for large dogs, like Janet the golden retriever, to cross them.

Getting Janet the retriever over the stile

Getting Janet the golden retriever over the stile …

... is not easy

… is not easy

These stiles should be replaced with gates, to British Standard 5709, to ensure people of all abilities, with their dogs, can enjoy this lovely route.  It’s the landowner’s duty to do it, and West Berkshire Council’s to ensure it happens—but perhaps the energetic West Berkshire Ramblers could give a hand?

I have reported this to West Berkshire Council using the online report form.  I’ll let you know what response I get.

West Berkshire Ramblers' volunteers' 100th gate

West Berkshire Ramblers’ volunteers’ 100th gate, on Winterbourne Road



Posted in Access, AONB, Public paths, walking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A treacherous act

Seventy-five years ago today, 13 July 1939, the Access to Mountains Act 1939 received royal assent.  My predecessor at the Open Spaces Society, Sir Lawrence Chubb, had a big hand in this but it is nothing to be proud of.  We can only feel relieved that the act was repealed ten years later by clause 84 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 without ever being applied.

In summary, the act did not grant a right of access, it merely prohibited owners from keeping walkers off the land during daylight hours; the act only applied to mountain, moor, heath, down or cliff where there was an order for access, the process for achieving this was cumbersome, slow and expensive, and in certain circumstances trespass became a criminal offence, punishable by fine.

Tom Stephenson, former secretary of the Ramblers’ Association (RA), wrote in detail about the 1939 act in his book Forbidden Land (Manchester University Press, 1989).  He reported that there was ‘great joy and jubilation and an inexplicable optimism in the RA in November 1938 when it was learned that Arthur Creech Jones, the Labour MP for Shipley, was to introduce an Access to Mountains Bill’.

The bill, as initially presented, was the same as that presented by James Bryce half a century earlier, giving the public the right of free access to uncultivated land, subject to provisions preventing abuse of the right.  No owner or occupier of such uncultivated land was entitled to exclude or bar walkers.

However, at the second-reading debate in the House of Commons in December 1938, it emerged in the response from the Under-Secretary at the Home Office, Geoffrey Lloyd (Conservative), that there had been negotiations between landowners’ representatives and the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society (as the OSS was then known).  It was the first the RA’s leaders had heard of this.

It turned out that Lawrence Chubb was working hard behind the scenes, in an unprincipled and toadying manner, to achieve an agreement with landowners.  The House of Commons agreed to let the bill have second reading and to negotiate in committee.




With Chubb actively involved, and to the dismay and anger of many ramblers, a number of draft bills then followed.  The one that was pursued could hardly have been worse.  It did not give public access to all uncultivated land but instead proposed an elaborate procedure for limited access to specific areas.  What is more, a landowner could appeal to the Ministry of Agriculture for an order to restrict access and impose special conditions governing the access (for instance, for lambing, nesting or shooting) and it would be an offence, punishable by fine, for anyone to disregard such restrictions.  Thus trespass would become a criminal offence.  Unless one could prove that the trespass was unintentional, one could be fined merely for being on land.

The RA agreed to oppose the bill.  It went through committee in the House of Commons. At third reading Fred Marshall (Lab for Sheffield Brightside) tried to nullify the trespass clause by removing the word ‘unintentional’.  Clement Atlee and 17 MPs who became ministers in his 1945 government supported the amendment but it was defeated by 86 votes to 70.

The RA and sympathetic MPs lobbied the lords, making it clear that they would greatly prefer no bill to the one proposed.  But the lords proceeded.  The trespass clause was amended so that it would not apply automatically, only if it was stipulated in an access order or a subsequent amendment to an order, a small concession.

The slopes of Kinder

The slopes of Kinder Scout, Derbyshire

The bill which became law on 1 Jan 1940 did not give a right of access, it merely prevented the owner and others from keeping walkers off the land to which the act applied.  The access was given by order, made by the minister, on the application of the owner, local authority or ‘any organisation deemed by the minister sufficiently representative of the persons likely to be benefited by the application of this act to the land’.  However, this access was only available during daylight hours; at night the ordinary law of trespass applied.  There was a list of restrictions (similar to those in the 1949 act and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000), breach of which were criminal offences.

The statutory rules and orders which followed made it even worse.  Anyone wanting access had to apply for an order on a prescribed form and pay £10.  He also had to provide and pay for maps and advertisements.  If there were objections, the applicant might have to pay for a public inquiry.  If an order was made, the applicant had to erect notices and signs and maintain them.  And if the ministry decided to close land, because of fire danger for instance, the applicant had to post notices.  All this placed a wholly unreasonable burden on those seeking access, and the applicant might be an organisation such as the RA with very limited funds.  The regime was unworkable and very nasty.

Yet Chubb persisted in arguing that it was a good thing.  In the Commons Society’s annual report for 1939 he wrote: ‘The chief event of the year was unquestionably the passing into law of the Access to Mountains Bill.’  He said that the bill was given second reading in the commons ‘in order to enable the society to negotiate the terms of a mutually-acceptable bill with the Central Landowners’ Association (now the CLA) and the Land Union and other bodies.  The negotiations were carried on in the friendliest spirit, and the society desires to record its deep appreciation of the manner in which the representatives of the landowners endeavoured to reconcile its views with their natural desire to avoid any undue interference with private rights of property’.  Thus Chubb showed his true colours.

He went on to criticise ‘the small but active body of critics who persistently opposed the measure because it did not slavishly follow the impracticable scheme of the original bill’, and concluded ‘It is fortunate that the act completed its passage through parliament in time to escape the fate which befell many bills which were still in intermediate stages when the war broke out, and that when peace returns it will be possible to proceed immediately with its full application, as part of the social amelioration which must surely be one of the first objects of the peace.’  Fortunately, that ‘full application’ never occurred.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, with its imperfections and limited application, is undoubtedly far better than the Access to Mountains Act’s pernicious provisions.

Winsford Hill, Exmoor

Winsford Hill, Exmoor

Posted in Access, Open Spaces Society, parliament, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Blencathra friends miss the point

It is sad that the Friends of Blencathra have failed in their bid to buy this magnificent mountain, also known as ‘Saddleback’ in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria.  This majestic place should belong to the community.

However, all may not be quite lost as the contract with the secret buyer has not yet been signed.  So we learnt from John Robson, managing director of H&H Land and Property, agent for the Lonsdale Estates, on BBC radio 4’s Today programme this morning.  The guide price was £1.75 million and the mountain is being sold by Lord Lonsdale to pay the inheritance tax following the death of his father.

Blencathra south face.  photo: Wikipedia

Blencathra south face. photo: Wikipedia

It was a pity that the Friends’ honorary president, Chris Bonington, wasn’t clearer on Today about the constraints that the new buyer will be under (listen here, 1 hr 20 mins in to programme).  When Jim Naughtie asked him about this, Chris said ‘being part of the national park, there can’t be any kind of development on it without planning permission …  Secondly, because it’s all open moorland it’s already got the statutory right to roam so we will always have the right to wander Blencathra free of charge’.

He missed the point.  Planning permission applies to all land, and the right to roam can be removed if the land ceases to be open country.

Three points 
Chris should have made three points.

1          The land is in the national park, therefore any development must also meet the authority’s objectives to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public.   A tough test on Blencathra.

2          The land is registered common, CL66, so that any works there would, additionally, require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He could also have said that there are ten active graziers with rights to graze thousands of animals, none of which can be interfered with.

3          The land is heavily designated.  It is a site of special scientific interest and a Special Area of Conservation.  Moreover, it is in a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement with two other commons, running to November 2020, which prescribes the management.

While Chris would not have had time to spell all this out, he might have given more of a flavour of it.  For the upshot is that there are so many rights and interests, and so many constraints, that the only reason to own this precious jewel is to maintain its landscape, wildlife, commoning heritage and public access.

If the new owner tries to do anything here which conflicts with these many public interests, there will be trouble.

Posted in Access, common land, Cumbria, National parks, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The shock of my life

‘You gotta do ’em over,’ said my dad, shaking his head sorrowfully.  That was 40 years ago today: 6 July 1974.  I can hear him now, with his soft American voice, uttering words which I was not expecting to hear.

He was conveying the news that I had failed my first-year biology exams at Exeter University, something I had never anticipated.  And the shock came at the end of a wonderful day.  I was at Lancaster University, at a conference about national parks with my heroine and mentor Sylvia Sayer, Dartmoor’s champion.

Lancaster University

Lancaster University

This was my first experience the national scene, and I had met people who had just been names before: Ian Campbell (secretary of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society), John Cripps (chairman of the Countryside Commission), Mervyn Osmond (from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, as it was then known), Gerald Haythornthwaite (chairman of the Council for National Parks) and many others.  It was a taste of my future life and I was on a high.

I knew the exam results were due that day and I had authorised the parents to open the letter before coming up to fetch me en route to a holiday in Scotland.  At the end of the conference Sylvia encouraged me to seek out mum and dad and ask about the results, so she was with me at the time.  We were both devastated by this news.  I had never before failed an exam and I had worked hard for these ones.

In fact the parents were so dismayed that they had rung my good friend Hil Scott (now Marshall), also in her first year at Exeter, to find out how she had fared.  Her post hadn’t arrived by then and she spent some anxious minutes thinking that she too must have failed until the postman came.  Fortunately she had passed.

That evening, in Hornby in the Lune Valley, I stuffed countless coins into the callbox to talk to the patient Hil, endlessly going over how could this possibly have happened.  We cut our Scottish trip short and I raced back to Devon to confront my professor, David Nichols, the marine biologist.

He explained that my problem was that I wrote too much and didn’t answer the questions!  So after a worrying summer I did the retakes and passed.

It came out OK in the end, but that day 40 years ago is one I’ll never forget.



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