Back to birds!

Our Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) membership cards for the next year arrived today, and RSPB seems to have listened to us!

We are joint members and last year I complained on this blog that one of the cards portrayed a water vole, very sweet but not what RSPB should focus on.

Last year's card, of a bank vole

Last year’s card, of a water vole

This reflected RSPB’s twee and unfortunate new name for Birds magazine, Nature’s Home, and its new slogan ‘Giving nature a home’.

This year our cards are entirely birds.  One is of goldfinches, which frequent our garden,

This year's card, goldfinches

This year’s card, goldfinches

and the other a black grouse (reminding me of a cold May morning in 2007 watching a lek in the North Pennines mist).

Capercaillie

Black grouse

What’s on your card?  It would be interesting to know if there is a range of pictures for the cards and if someone took a decision to send us birds in view of my concern.  If so, thank you RSPB for reading my blog and for acting on it.

Posted in Birds, RSPB | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Double Dart picnic

Forty years ago today, on 29 August 1974, I joined the Sayer family for the first of many idyllic family excursions.  This was a picnic on the Double Dart (ie the East and West Dart Rivers combined) below Dartmeet, Dartmoor, and the details are etched on my memory, assisted by my detailed diary.

I was staying at Hillbridge Farm before returning to Exeter to retake my first-year exams.  Sylvia (Lady) Sayer, Dartmoor’s champion, invited me to Cator, her home near Widecombe.  Her son Oliver (Oz), wife Janet, children Penelope (12), Philippa (11) and Frances (8), then known as Googie, Luli and Frookie, and Pippin the Westie were staying and a picnic was in the offing.

When I arrived at 2.30 preparations were being made.  The three girls came tumbling down the old stone stairs, and picnic, swimming gear and fishing rods were collected and stuffed in the car.  Syl’s husband Guy stayed behind because he was working with Pickles Pascoe, the skilled stonemason, who was building an extension on the medieval longhouse.

Wooded slopes
We drove to Bel Tor Corner, with Frook firing questions at me about riding, her favourite topic.  We left the car at the top of the track to Rowbrook and called at the farm for Algie May’s permission to walk through his fields.  Then we walked down the steep slope to the Dart.  Ahead lay the wooded slopes leading to Bench Tor and beyond the ridges of Holne Moor, hazy in the sunlight.

We made our way down to the peaceful Black Pool and Luli immediately changed into her swimsuit.  Googie was not so eager but eventually followed her, while Frookie, in bright gingham pants, paddled in her new sandals, which caused Janet some concern.  Oz went downstream to fish and the rest of us sat on the warm rocks chatting.

At Black Pool, Googie, Frook, Oz and Luli

At Black Pool, Googie, Frook, Oz and Luli

It was the day the government had published its response to the report of the Defence Lands (Nugent) Committee.  The government had accepted the minority report of committee member John Cripps (then chairman of the Countryside Commission) and agreed to hold a public inquiry into the military use of Dartmoor.  So we had much to talk about and Syl had been in demand that morning from the press.  We were not to know (though it is possible that we guessed) that the public inquiry which was held the following year was to prove a sham.

From above the Holne Moor leat looking to Eagle Rock and Sharp Tor, Rowbrook is on the left (April 2007)

From above the Holne Moor leat looking to Eagle Rock and Sharp Tor, Rowbrook is on the left (April 2007)

Then we all followed Oz downstream.  I recall that Syl’s necklace broke and we gathered up the beads and stuffed them in the pocket of Frook’s gingham pants, noting that we mustn’t turn her upside down!  With Sayer calls echoing in the woods we found Oz again and returned to Black Pool for tea, while Googie and Luli practised casting, under Oz’s tuition, with their home-made rod.

Downstream
We then went on downstream past the impressive Eagle Rock (Luckey Tor on the Ordnance Survey maps), wandering happily through the trees while Oz stopped every so often to cast in the river.  At last we found what we assumed to be Broad Rock (Broadstone on the OS map) on the curve of the river, and sat in the sun while Oz and Luli fished.  Oz caught a trout which he threw back.

At Broad Rock. Left to right Janet, Googie, Syl, Luli by the river, Pippin and Oz (fishing)

At Broad Rock. Left to right Janet, Googie, Syl, Luli by the river, Pippin and Oz (fishing)

It was beginning to get chilly so we reluctantly left the river and made the steep ascent back to the car and thence to Cator for a cheerful and hilarious supper.  I felt very privileged to be of the party, the first of many such expeditions.

I am eternally grateful that the family was willing to include me on this and many future excursions and made me feel so welcome.

 

 

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Barbara MacDonald, my feisty friend

Today my feisty friend Barbara MacDonald (1912-2002) would have been 102 years old. She fought for Dartmoor’s livestock and landscape, she loved to burst the pompous bureaucratic balloon, and she was a straight talker with a great sense of fun.  I wrote about her here on her centenary.

I have the poem she wrote on August bank holiday 1970, Visitor to Swincombe: the last wilderness.  At that time the Swincombe valley, a natural and wild amphitheatre on southern Dartmoor, was threatened by a reservoir.  Bar’s powerful poem says it all.

Barbara MacDonald

Barbara MacDonald

Visitor to Swincombe: the last wilderness
Why did you come?  There’s nothing here for you
Why have you left the world you know and sought the wilderness?
There’s nowhere here to hide;
No sound to fill the echoing void you call your mind;
No chitter-chatter in the breeze
When doubt or thought might bring your fear.
There’s nothing here but wind and sun and endless space
And sheep which could not hear
Were you to speak or cry or play a tune.
Why do you watch the cattle moving on the distant hill?
Are they your link with life when all is still?
Why have you left the clustered cars on other hills
To find your way to loneliness and peace?
There’s no one here to answer when you call.
Go back and join your friends: —or stand
With feet on ancient turf and hand on granite rock;
These are your roots; these are yourself:
These are where man began.

Ter Cross and the Swincombe valley

Ter Cross and the Swincombe valley

Posted in Access, Dartmoor, Dartmoor livestock, wild country | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Live and let live—but not on the bridleway

The former Live and Let Live pub on the edge of Booker Common, west of High Wycombe in Bucks, has been extended and converted into a private house, with planning permission for three houses on the adjacent land, which was the pub car-park.

A public bridleway runs past the site and it appears that the converted house has encroached on it.  The bridleway should surely extend to the two fences on the left in the picture below, now underneath the house’s new forecourt.

Encroachment on bridleway?

Encroachment on bridleway?

Vigilant Wycombe district councillor Brian Peace invited Corinne Waldron, rights-of-way officer from Buckinghamshire County Council (the highway authority), and me to visit the site.

Brian and Corinne consider the matter

Brian and Corinne consider the matter

Corinne has agreed to investigate whether the new house has encroached on the bridleway and to contact the owner.

The new house

The new house

We also need to ensure that when the houses are built next door, there is no further encroachment.

Development next door

Development next door

However, I was concerned to see that there was new fencing on the common a little way along the bridleway, running parallel to Willow Avenue.  I’ve asked Corinne to investigate that too, since it does not have the necessary ministerial consent under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.

New fencing on the common

New fencing on the common

Corinne will let us know when she has carried out her research.

Posted in Access, Bucks, common land, Obstructed path, Public paths | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

England’s coastal access underplayed

The Guardian‘s Travel section ran a feature on Saturday 23 August about coastal access in England.  Only it wasn’t about coastal access, it kept referring to the ‘coastal path’.  The standfirst was: ‘Following Wales’s lead, England is opening a national coastal path.’ The author, Chris Moss, then described the route between North Gare, Hartlepool and South Bents in Sunderland, which I helped to open on behalf of the Ramblers in April.

The article was wrong on two counts.  England did not follow Wales’s lead, it was already planning coastal access when Wales began to promote the idea of a coastal path. Secondly, the English coastal access will be superior to that in Wales.  My letter, on behalf of the Open Spaces Society, was published in today’s Guardian:

Your feature on England’s new coastal access (Travel, 23 August) underplays the achievement by referring to it merely as a ‘coastal path’.  The whole point of England’s coastal access is that it provides spreading room, where the public has the right to walk, between the path and the sea and inland to the first boundary.  The Welsh Coastal Path, although brilliant, is only a route; there is no spreading room.

Coastal access with spreading room on the Cumbria coast near Allonby

Coastal access with spreading room on the Cumbria coast near Allonby

 

 

 

Posted in Access, Coastal access, walking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Growing from the landscape

One of the many features which Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and Henry Moore (1898-1986) share is the way their figures grow out of the landscape. Compton Verney in Warwickshire is a lovely setting for these sculptures.   Its Moore Rodin show is on until 31 August.

There are 11 sculptures in the park, demonstrating a strong relationship with nature. Moore’s massive The Arch (1969) is by the lake.

Moore, The Arch

Moore, The Arch

Rodin’s Monument to the Burghers of Calais (1889) is normally high up on a plinth in the Victoria Tower Gardens, west of the Houses of Parliament.  It is so much better to see them at ground level, as they are at Compton Verney, and appreciate their suffering.

Rodin, Burghers of Calais

Rodin, Burghers of Calais

Rodin had maquettes of various body parts in this studio and kept using the same ones, so that some of the burghers share hands and feet.  The sculpture commemorates an event in 1347, during the Hundred Years War, when six city officials offered their lives by volunteering to act as hostages while Calais was under siege, carrying the city’s keys to King Edward III of England.

Sites centrally in front of the house is Moore’s massive Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae (1968).

Moore: Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae

Moore: Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae

By the lake, Rodin’s Jean d’Aire, Monumental Nude (1887) demonstrates power beneath the skin, with his clenched muscles.

Rodin, Jean d'Aire with Moore's The Arch behind

Rodin, Jean d’Aire with Moore’s The Arch behind

Rodin and Moore were born 58 years apart, but there are many similarities between their work, and the sculptures are displayed to highlight these.  The two below, Rodin’s Walking Man, on a column (1900) and Moore’s Upright Motive No 9 (1979)  are close to each other in the park.

Rodin, Walking Man

Rodin, Walking Man

Moore, Upright Motive

Moore, Upright Motive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two further sculptures, Moore’s Reclining Figure Bunched (1969) and Rodin’s The Fallen Caryatid with Stone, large model (1911) show a powerful tension.

Moore, Reclining Figure and Rodin The Fallen Caryatid

Moore, Reclining Figure and Rodin The Fallen Caryatid

There are many more sculptures in the exhibition rooms.  It’s well worth a visit.

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White Cliffs Walking Festival

                                …the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

So wrote Matthew Arnold in Dover Beach and so they stood last Thursday when I launched the White Cliffs Walking Festival on Dover seafront.

The week-long festival (21-27 August) was inspired and organised by the Ramblers’ energetic White Cliffs Group and they have put on a great programme.

Programme and badge

Programme and badge

About a hundred people gathered for the opening

The festival launch, photo: Nigel Cussans

The festival launch, photo: Nigel Cussans

and we were joined by the Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who spoke in support of coastal access.  The first stretch in Kent between Folkestone and Ramsgate will soon come into being, and the next section, from Whitstable to Ramsgate, is in the offing.

Charlie Elphicke (left) and Graham Smith, group publicity officer (right)

Charlie Elphicke (left) and Graham Smith, group publicity officer (right)

Also present were the mayors of Deal (the first Walkers Are Welcome Town in Kent) and Dover.

I highlighted the importance of walking to the economy and commended the group for its hard work on the festival and for raising money and support for it.

The van of one of the sponsors, Up on the Downs, the landscape partnership scheme

The van of one of the sponsors, Up on the Downs, the landscape partnership scheme

I also praised the group for its stout defence of paths and access and for organising work parties to clear paths for the council.

Then I joined the first walk of the festival, led by Les Preston.  We took a bus to Capel le Ferne, just east of Folkestone, and walked back along the cliffs to Dover.

It’s important that we show people what we have achieved, and Les was exemplary.  When we walked past Capel Battery, he explained that this area of access land had been blocked off by the owner.

Capel Battery, free again

Capel Battery, free again

Pressed by the Ramblers, Kent County Council (the access authority) took him to court and eventually got the land reopened.

The point where the access was blocked

The point where the access was blocked

On the way we stopped at the Battle of Britain memorial on top of the cliffs.

Wall with names of pilots who were lost during the Battle of Britain.

Wall with the names of all the pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain.

The vista back along the coast to Folkestone, with Dungeness beyond, were tremendous. We also had a clear view of France.

Folkestone and beyond

Folkestone and beyond

The coastal path coincides with the North Downs Way national trail.

North Downs Way

North Downs Way

At one point there is a handrail on the seaward side of the cliff path.  Kent County Council had wanted to close the route some years ago claiming it was no longer used.  The Ramblers objected but Dover magistrates agreed to the closure.  The Ramblers appealed to Canterbury Crown Court which in 2002 ruled that the path should be opened. The council then installed the handrail.  Had the Ramblers lost the path would probably have gone along the inferior cycle track which only briefly touches the cliff path.  The court hearings cost the council £45,000.

Handrail

Handrail

We passed a wartime listening post

Listening post

Listening post

and a number of pillboxes.  These were the first pillboxes to be built, and they uniquely have an overhanging roof.  This was removed from later models because it was found that the overhang gave more surface area against which bullets could ricochet.

Pill-box

Pillbox with overhanging roof

We walked above Samphire Hoe, created from the debris dug out for the Channel Tunnel, and named by a competition.

Samphire Hoe

Samphire Hoe

We soon came out on Shakespeare Cliff above Dover.

Looking towards Shakespeare Cliff

Looking towards Shakespeare Cliff

The town and motorway lap right up to the cliffs, but it was wonderful to be above them on the white cliffs.

Descending Shakespeare Cliff

Descending Shakespeare Cliff

And so back into the town.  If this first walk of the festival is a guide, the rest will be terrific. There is an exciting range of activity, including history walks and a final barbeque on the seafront at Deal.

Well done White Cliffs Group, and we look forward to next year.

Posted in Access, Coastal access, National trail, Public paths, Ramblers, Walkers Are Welcome Towns, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments