A day of outdoor anniversaries

April 24th is a day of anniversaries.  On this day in 1965 I first visited Dartmoor and Hillbridge Farm which still mean so much to me.  On the same day the Pennine Way was opened (but, a ten-year-old, I was unaware of it at the time), and in 1932 it was the Kinder Trespass.  Six years ago it was Rozel Lawlor’s funeral, a poignant and hauntingly beautiful day when I said goodbye to a friend with whom I shared Dartmoor walks and a love of birds.

So it was especially good that I was at Hillbridge on 24 April this year, and was up early for a walk.  The first bird I saw, looking out of the bedroom window at the adjacent magnolia, was a pied flycatcher, gathering food before flitting into the oakwood which is next to the colourful garden.  I had seen him the day before and was thrilled that he was still about.

15 magnolia


16 garden

Hillbridge garden








I walked down to the River Tavy where a dipper sped upstream, then across fields known as Coffins through Wapsworthy.  It was here, at the top of the bridleway close to the moor gate, that I heard then saw my first redstart of the year.  A moment later there was a loud cuckoo behind me and I swung round to see the bird perch at the top of a nearby tree.

8 redstart


9 Wapsworthy cuckoo spot

Where the cuckoo perched, on the bridleway from Wapsworthy








I climbed to the top of White Tor, reaching it by 7.30; there was low cloud but still a fine view towards Great Mis Tor.

10 White Tor

From White Tor to Great Mis Tor

Then I walked down to Stephen’s Grave and Twist where, as I had hoped, I saw another redstart (I have seen them here before).  By the time I reached Cudlipptown the sun was coming out.

11 Twist

Near Twist, above Cudlipptown, with Gibbet Hill beyond

After descending through lush fields I came to the sparkling Tavy at Horndon Clam. Common Wood is on the left as one looks upstream.

12 Horndon Clam

Looking upstream from Horndon Clam

It was a scramble to get along the river at the bottom of Common Wood, with grey wagtails flickering on the rocks.  As I walked up from the river towards the leat and home I saw another cuckoo in the trees.

And so, once again, 24 April was memorable, for a spectacular walk and exciting birds, in a very special place.

17 Common Wood

Common Wood



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Ring ouzel pilgrimage

Every year I aim to walk up Tavy Cleave on western Dartmoor at least once at ring ouzel time, and so on 23 April I set off from Lane End.  

It was both the date we recognise as Shakespeare’s birthday, and the 400th anniversary of his death, which was fitting as Shakespeare was familiar with the ouzel, mentioning the ouzel and ouzel-cock many times (perhaps he was referring to the ring ouzel’s relative, the blackbird).  

7 TC

I followed the leat to the little hut and then on, over rough ground to the tiny stream with its rowan tree which is like a little bit of Exmoor.

4 TC bit of exmoor

A little bit of Exmoor

It was just beyond here that I saw a bird perched on skyline rocks, and it was indeed a ring ouzel with its bright, white bib.  It is always a thrill to see it, and especially the first of the year.

3 TC ring ouzel rocks

Ring ouzel rocks

I continued round the corner to the waterfall which is a special spot because, as I have recorded before, it is here in this romantic setting that Sylvia Sayer’s father, Richard Munday, proposed to her mother, Olive Burnard, in 1891.

1TC waterfall

The waterfall

Then I returned down the valley and the ring ouzel was perched on the same hillside on a lower rock, where it remained for some time.  I hope it has a nest there.

5 TC Ger Tor

Ger Tor from the south

Further down the valley I heard one calling but frustratingly could not locate it.   And so I turned back along the leat, in a lovely light, to the car-park.

6 TC homeward

Heading homewards

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Lampeter at the crossroads

I combined a visit to the Ramblers’ Welsh Council in Lampeter, Ceredigion, with a meeting with townspeople to discuss their aspiration to become a Walkers Are Welcome town.  I hope they go ahead with this.  I find it particularly pleasing when towns which are not on the main tourist-track achieve the status because it can make a real difference to the town’s hwyl—its mood and outlook.

Lampeter is surrounded by lovely, unsung, countryside and has many paths on which the town council does valuable maintenance work.  Lampeter Ramblers publish books of walks and use public transport when they can.  There are iron-age forts on the surrounding hills.  The town is lively with many independent shops.  The council has created a heritage trail around the town, with information-packed notice boards.  There is a lot to explore.


9 college

Lampeter university

The town, on the north bank of the River Teifi, grew up at the crossing of old routes: the road along the northern bank of the river meets the road from Carmarthen which crosses the river at Pont Stephen, enshrined in the town’s Welsh name Llanbedr Pont Steffan. Stephen was probably a Norman lord.

We stayed at the lovely University of Wales.  It received its royal charter in 1828 which makes it the third oldest university in England and Wales after Oxford and Cambridge. The quadrangle (1819-22) was by C R Cockerell who later designed the Ashmolean museum in Oxford and has the air of an Oxford college.

12 quad

The quadrangle at Lampeter University, reminiscent of an Oxford college

Outside the front entrance is a castle mound dating from about 1080, which may have been built by the aforementioned Stephen.

8 motte and bailey

Castle mound

Ramblers’ weekends are always busy, so the only time for a walk was early on Sunday morning (7am).  Kay Davies from Lampeter Ramblers led us around the town.

3 Kay

Kay points out features of the town.

We followed the old Drovers’ Road to the common (Y Cwmins) which is now a car-park but was where stock once grazed and the market was held.

1 Drovers road

Drovers’ Road

2 Y Cymins, common

The former common







We walked past the church, with rows of touching, tiny gravestones for people from the workhouse.

4 workhouse graves

Then we went to the Rugby ground, famous as the first in Wales, the idea having been brought from Cambridge in 1850 by the Reverend Professor Rowland Williams.  Kay told us how Ceredigion Council had wanted to sell the pitch for development but her father and others researched it and found that it had been dedicated to the people of Lampeter who died in the First World War, with the gates as an elegant memorial.

6 memorial gates

Beyond the rugby ground we could see a long ridge, the Long Wood community woodland, a co-operative with public rights of access.

7 rugby pitch and Long Wood

Rugby ground with Long Wood community woodland beyond

Later I wandered past the site of the old railway station to a gate which tells a story.  The Ramblers applied for this path up to Cwm-Rhŷs and a quarry to be added to the definitive map but they lost after a public inquiry and a good fight.  Lampeter Ramblers are a feisty bunch.

11 lost battle

I returned to the university via the fine war-memorial by Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John.

10 war memorial

I hope that Lampeter will soon be a fully-fledged Walkers Are Welcome town.


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Discovery at Little Marlow

I have driven past the old gravel-pits at Little Marlow, Bucks, many times, little knowing that the lake which has been created there is a bird heaven.  It is Spade Oak Nature Reserve and is managed by local people, and the Bucks Bird Club records sightings.

8 notice-board

Today I stopped there for a walk and saw my first blackcap, willow warbler, sand martin and house martin of the year, and my second-ever yellow wagtail.

As soon as I came to the shore of the lake I could see the Hirundinidae in profusion over the water, a mixture of swallows and martins, black and brown.  It was a lovely concentration of them when there are so few anywhere else, and they wove ceaselessly across the water.

1 Spade Oak

The lake where the swallows, house martins and sand martins were

A bit further on I stopped at a vantage point where fortunately some people with a telescope could point me to seven common terns and a yellow wagtail.

2 Spade Oak - common terns

The common terns were near the island


3 Spade Oak - yellow wagtail

The shore where the yellow wagtail was.







I came to a boggy section among trees and here I tracked down the willow warbler and blackcaps—male and female.

4 Spade Oak - blackcap

Blackcap territory.

A path leading north from the lake brings you to Little Marlow village with its attractive twelfth-century church,

7 church and green

pivoting lychgate

6 lychgate (pivot)

and small green.

7 church and green

I followed a path through woods and along the edge of the fields, noting what looked like a tumulus, which had been left unploughed.  There is nothing marked on the 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map.


7 tumulus


A permissive path leads back to the lake and I followed this round to the car park, enjoying the scratchy song of an elusive sedge warbler.

The walk is promoted in a leaflet by Little Marlow Parish Council.  The story of the site and the battle for the permissive path is told here.

Opposite the car park is the Spade Oak pub, a convenient start or end of the walk.

9 pub

Spade Oak


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South Downs celebrations

Today the Hampshire Ramblers and its South East Hants Group are celebrating the sixth anniversary of the South Downs National Park, an annual event initiated by Owen Plunkett.  Unfortunately I can’t be there but it looks fun.

There is a gathering at the South Downs National Park centre at Midhurst at 10.40, and then the vintage South Downs bus will take walkers to Petworth for a seven-mile walk back to Midhurst, led by George and Jasper Stride.  The walk is part of the South Downs Vintage Walking Festival.

web Seven Sisters

I have sent a message to Owen to be read out at the reception.

Six years after the South Downs National Park came into being (and five years after the authority was established) it is still wonderful to reflect on our great joint achievement of securing protection for this magnificent expanse of countryside.

We must campaign unceasingly to protect its borders from creeping encroachment, and to ensure that the unique and splendid qualities of the downs are unimpaired.

They give freedom and fresh air to thousands of people and, being so close to population centres, should lead the way in enabling every child to experience the outdoors.  What better place can there be in which to learn about our countryside and the environment?

As I head to Lampeter for the Ramblers’ Welsh Council I shall be thinking of those incomparable South Downs which have at last won the recognition they deserve as a national park.

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The CLASP system

Ramblers are good at navigating but even we had some difficulty finding our way around York University’s confusing campus at our general council last weekend.  And I wish I had taken Pevsner with me so as to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the architecture.

I had been to York Uni twice before, once in November 1972 when I went for an interview for a biology degree.  I had already decided I wanted to go to Exeter, but this was a practice run.  I returned in 1994 for the Ramblers’ general council.  I remembered the lake from both occasions; it is quite a feature.  This time I found a helpful chart of the birds one might see and clocked my first goosander of the year.

13 Uni lake bird sign

Pevsner (The Buildings of England,Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 1972 edition), in his inimitable style, writes of the university (established 1960): ‘As for the new buildings and their siting, they have resulted in the best of the new universities, visually and structurally, thanks to one stroke of genius and one highly sensible decision.  The stroke of genius is the large lake.  It provides all the undulation and some of the variety one wants to see, and it allows the buildings to be entirely reasonable and to keep away from all gimmicks.  The decision referred to was to use the CLASP system, a system of modular dimensioning and prefabricated parts.’

CLASP stands for Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme (I suspect there should be an apostrophe after ‘authorities’).  It was formed in 1957 to combine local authorities’ resources in building prefabricated schools.  Some of the buildings at York University, such as Vanbrugh and Langwith Colleges, demonstrate notable uses of the CLASP system.  It consisted of prefabricated, light steel frames which could be built economically to four storeys and  finished in a variety of claddings.  Pevsner noted that the system ‘allowed York to build more quickly and more cheaply than the others, which was and is imperative’.

But, lest you should think this might be dull, he swiftly retorts: ‘ Now all this may sound like boredom; in fact it is nothing of the sort.  The first two colleges, Derwent [where we held general council] and Langwith, are so intricately planned, with inner courtyards—even a square pool off the lake—many walkways, and projections this way and that, that one hardly comes to feel the chief reason behind it all’.

14 Central Hall

Central Hall overhangs the lake. To the right is Vanbrugh College, an example of the CLASP system.

Pevsner approves of the Central Hall ‘where—rightly—fancy is allowed free run’.  It is a half-octagon with its canted sides to the lake.  He is less complimentary about the physics laboratory which ‘is no asset in the general scenery’.

Heslington Hall
Tucked away in the south-east corner is Heslington Hall which is part of nearby Heslington, an estate village with a single street and attractive church.

18 Heslington Hall

Heslington Hall

The hall was the centre of the new university, albeit in a corner of it.  It is a Victorian recasting of the Elizabethan manor.  Close by is The Quiet Place with its large rounded hedges.

15 The Quiet Place

The Quiet Place

There are some pleasant sculptures.  Greylag geese are everywhere, hissing threateningly at me as I went on my morning run.

16 Aspiration Bill Hodgson 2006

Aspiration by Bill Hodgson (2006).

17 Dryad Austin Wright 1984

Dryad by Austin Wright (1984)



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Vera’s York walk

It was a good start to the Ramblers’ general council weekend at York University to be offered a pleasant, four-mile walk from the station.  It is one of the Ramblers’ Routes (join for unlimited access to them) devised by Vera Silberberg, who has been the diligent secretary of the Ramblers’ York Group for 22 years.  

I arrived at York station at about 3.30 on a drizzly Friday afternoon and set off along the River Ouse.

1 by river

Along the River Ouse

At Lendal Bridge I climbed to the city wall, with a fine view back to the Minster, and a smug feeling as I watched the queuing Friday traffic below.  This section of the wall enclosed the colonia (planned town) of the Roman fortress which was on the other side of the river, centred on the site of York Minster.2 wall looking to minster

At Micklegate Bar I went through the gateway.  Pevsner considers Micklegate to be ‘the most rewarding street in York’.

3 Micklegate

Micklegate Bar

4 Micklegate

The rewarding view up Micklegate









I continued round the wall with profusions of daffodils on the slopes

6 wall

and then rejoined the river at Skeldergate Bridge.

6a Skeldergate Bridge

Skeldergate Bridge

A bit further downstream I came to Rowntree Park which is dedicated to the employees of Rowntree’s who died in the First World War.

7 Rowntree Park

Rowntree Park

The eighteenth-century gates are grade II*-listed, donated by Rowntree’s in 1955 as a World War II memorial.

8 gates

I crossed the river on the elegant Millennium Bridge, with a view downstream to the tower of the former Terry’s chocolate factory.

10 Millennium Bridge

9 Terry's of York






After a rather boring urban stretch to Fulford Road and past the TA barracks, I came to Walmgate Stray, with its tantalising sign suggesting that there might just be short-eared owls here (but it is rather an old sign).

11 Walmgate Stray sign

Here the city freemen have grazing rights.  It is not shown as access land on the Explorer map, but the public has freedom to roam.  It is one of a number of the historic strays of York.

12 Walmgate Stray

Walmgate Stray with the university beyond

From here I entered the university grounds, at which point the navigation became more difficult; the walk delivered me to Derwent College but it’s a confusing campus and it was some time before I eventually reached my accommodation in Alcuin College on the far side of University Road.

Thanks to Vera, and to route checker Marilyn Skelton, for such an interesting walk.


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