Among champion trees

This was the third year in which Ramblers Cymru had staged a walk from the Eisteddfod, following many years when the walk was organised by the Countryside Council for Wales and then Natural Resources Wales.  Their enthusiasm flagged and so, two years ago, the Ramblers (whose idea it was more than 20 years ago) took it back.

We met at Mermaid Quay on Cardiff Bay where we were welcomed by Ramblers Cymru director Angela Charlton.  Ramblers Cymru’s president, Will Renwick (the youngest person to walk the Wales Coast Path and Offa’s Dyke) was there, and a number of other Ramblers and colleagues from kindred organisations, including Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales.  It is a great opportunity to meet others in our field and chat in pleasant surroundings.

7a mermaid quay

Left to right: Michael Price (Visit Wales), Will Renwick, Angela Charlton (welcoming everyone), Catherine Morgan (Ramblers Cymru area support officer, who made all the arrangements) and Ollie Wicks (Ramblers Cymru walking and spaces officer)

We boarded the Princess Katharine which took us round the bay then up the River Taff to Bute Park where we disembarked.  Others had come to meet us in the park, including Arthur Lee from Hereford (on his tramper); he represents Disabled Ramblers.

Cambrian Way
There, Richard Tyler from Powys Ramblers, spoke about the Cambrian Way trail which starts in Bute Park and heads north for 468 kms to Conwy.  Will Renwick spoke of his experience walking the Cambrian Way (from north to south), and called it ‘the jewel in the crown of trails’.  Then our leader, Meriel Jones, who is education officer for Bute Park, gave us a brief introduction.

8 Bute Park, Richard

Richard Tyler addresses the group

Bute Park is 56 hectares (or 75 football pitches) and is the green heart of Cardiff.  It receives over two million visitors a year, and has been in public ownership since 1947.

We stopped by a picture frame, a useful piece of sculpture which enabled us to take a group photo.

1 frame

Framed in the park

The Cambrian Way starts at Cardiff Castle, at the southern end of the park.

10 castle

Cardiff Castle

We walked to the gorsedd circle of local stones, erected when the Eisteddfod was in Cardiff in 1978.

9 Gorsedd

Gorsedd circle

The arboretum is one of the largest in a public park.  There are over 3,000 trees, including 40 champion trees.  A champion tree is the tallest specimen recorded in the British Isles, or has the largest trunk-girth measured at 1.5 metres off the ground.  Each of the champion trees has a plaque which has the following information: name of tree (centre);  family (top left);  date it became a champion (top right) and whether the accolade was for height (H), girth(G) or both (H&G); record number (bottom left), and year of planting (bottom right).

13 wingnut

Wingnut (Pterocarya x rehderiana), champion for its height and girth

14 wingnut label

Wingnut’s label

Bute Park produces a series of leaflets, and there are two (north and south) giving the location and details of the champion trees.

Bute Park tree leaflets

Tree leaflets, north and south. Details of each tree with a map are inside.

We passed the terrific herbaceous border, in fine colour despite the drought.  It was first established in the 1950s, partly to shield the park from the smell of the River Taff which runs nearby to the west.

12 herbaceous border

A small part of the herbaceous border, looking north

There is a leaflet in the education centre which has a plan of all 113 plant species in the border.

Bute Park herbaceous border leaflet

Part of the leaflet about the herbaceous border

We continued alongside the River Taff which we glimpsed through the trees.

14A Taff

River Taff from Bute Park

When we reached the elegant Blackweir Bridge we turned back.

14B Blackweir bridge

Blackweir bridge

The northern part of the park is a woodland and it is hard to believe that one is so close to the city centre.

15 in the wood

We ended at the education centre and Secret Garden Café for a splendid lunch of local produce.

It was an excellent walk, and credit goes to Catherine Morgan, Ramblers Cymru’s area support officer, for organising it.

Heading north
I then walked up to the northern end of Bute park with Helen Lloyd Jones.  We passed one of the many sculptured tree-trunks (you can find them on the interactive map).

16 Sculpture

Tree sculpture

We came to an avenue of massive redwoods.

17 Redwoods

Redwood trees

My walk ended with a lovely sighting of an egret on the River Taff.

18 Egret on the Taff

Taff egret

Bute Park has an active friends’ group.  You can read about it here.

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Across the Cardiff barrage

For more than 20 years I have visited the Eisteddfod, to walk with Welsh colleagues.  This year the Eisteddfod was in Cardiff; it was  much more a part of the city than is normally the case when the maes is in a field some way away. 

Because the roads would be crowded, my friend Beverley Penney and I walked from Penarth, to the west of Cardiff, across the barrage which was opened in 2001.

2 custom house

Penarth: the Custom House and, to the right, the Marine Building which has been empty for some time and is badly in need of renovation.

It was a pleasant and peaceful means of travel with lots of interest.  On the barrage there is a distinctive pink hut on stilts, originally used by local yacht clubs.

1 pnk hut

Pink hut

We passed the artwork by Felice Varini, Three Ellipses for Three Locks.  It is an anamorphosis, a distorted projection which can only be seen correctly when you stand in the right place.  We almost got it right.

4 yellow stripes

Three Ellipses for Three Locks by Felice Varini

The view over the Bristol Channel has the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm looking strangely close together, despite being four kilometres apart.  Brean Down in Somerset was visible on the other side of the channel.

5 islands

Brean Down to the left and Flat Holm and Steep Holm centre

We followed the Wales Coast Path below the barrage, with sand martins swooping overhead—a great joy to me.

5a WCP

Wales Coast Path heading towards Cardiff


6 coast path

Wales Coast Path waymark

This took us round to Cardiff Bay, where we joined the bustle of the Eisteddfod.  We passed the memorial to Captain Scott

7 Scott memorial

Scott memorial

and arrived at the meeting point for the walk, at Mermaid Quay.






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Double visit for nightjars

Every year I take part in the survey at Barossa and Poors Allotment, north of  Camberley in Surrey, to count nightjars under the aegis of Surrey Wildlife Trust.  The land is occupied by the Ministry of Defence and the counts are carried out for Natural England.

2 van

Meeting point

This year, unusually, we had two visits.

The first day, on 16 June, was uncertain weather.  It had rained for much of the day but cleared in the evening.  I arrived early to have a quick look at the heather patch where I have occasionally seen Dartford warblers in the past, but all was quiet.

1 Dartford patch

I have seen Darties here in the past

I was paired with a couple who were new to nightjar counts.  We walked past the belted galloways, doing useful conservation grazing.

3 belties


We reached our allotted site at Deer Rock Hill and walked round it in the gathering dusk.  When it was dark we stopped where we had the best view of trees in open country, hoping to see a nightjar.

We did see woodcock, and we heard at least one nightjar in our patch, and two more which were probably in someone else’s patch.  So it was not as good as usual.

Low returns
Because the weather had not been ideal and the returns were low, we were invited back the following Saturday.

This time, with two difference companions, I was allocated Poors Allotment, a plot to the east of where I was the previous week.

4 Poors Allotment

Poors Allotment

Again we walked around the plot, working out where best to look for nightjars when they started to call at around 9.30.  It had been a fine day and the conditions were better.

I was pleased to see a spotted flycatcher and a stonechat, both of which have been infrequent this year on the ranges.

The nightjars started to call at 9.44 at which point we were stationed conveniently in the middle of our area.  Sometimes it was hard to tell if we were hearing a new bird or a previous one which had moved a bit.  We decided that we had heard at least four in our patch, and some beyond our boundary.  I was sad that we didn’t see any.  However, we did again see woodcock.

The sunset was magnificent.

5 sunset 23 Jun

As ever, it was an enjoyable and rewarding activity.  Our leader, Ben Habgood of Surrey Wildlife Trust, will be in touch to give us the total count and its comparison with previous years.

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Shrewsbury’s shortest shut

Bear Steps in Shrewsbury is not only the shortest ‘shut’ (alleyway) in the town but it is also the shortest complete public right of way in Shropshire.  It is numbered 0443/UN16/1 on the Shropshire definitive map of rights of way, and it is only four metres long.

Trevor at Bear Steps

Trevor at the foot of Bear Steps

I encountered Bears Steps and other shuts, with fellow members of the Ramblers’ board, on a July weekend in Shrewsbury, where our meetings were interspersed with pleasant walks.  Trevor Allison, footpath secretary of Shropshire Ramblers, led us on an early walk on Sunday morning, around the many shuts of Shrewsbury.

Trevor is a Ramblers’ hero.  Between 2011 and 2015 he walked every definitive path in Shropshire: 5,000 kilometres over four years, using public transport.  He recorded the state of the paths and reported problems to the county council.

On that Sunday morning he led us from the Premier Inn on Mardol Quay, over the railway line and down to the River Severn.  The town is built in a great meander in the river (‘islanded in Severn stream’ wrote A E Housman in The Welsh Marches, A Shropshire Lad 28).  This stretch is on the southern side of the town.

By the Severn

By the River Severn

We then proceeded at speed through the town, taking in many shuts.

Shut 1

Peacock Passage








We passed many churches

St Marys church

St Mary’s church

and squiffy buildings, such as 15-16 Mardol, described by Pevsner as ‘an early C17 freak with most of the posts and studs baluster-shaped’.

15-16 Mardol

15-16 Mardol

We passed the 70 steps, linking the Pride Hill shops with Raven Meadows.


70 steps

This shut was shut

Shut shut

Shut shut

Shrewsbury is the birthplace of Charles Darwin in 1809, and it celebrates this in many ways.  There is the shopping centre

Darwin shopping centre

and the Quantum Leap sculpture by the Severn, marking the bicentenary of his birth.

Quantum Leap small

Quantum Leap

Our tour with Trevor was just a taster.  One needs many hours in this fascinating town, but Trevor has inspired me to return, Pevsner in hand.









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Countryside Commission of fond memory

Over the years I went to many of the Countryside Commission’s press conferences and launches.  I sat at the back and asked an awkward question or made a critical point.  Then on 14 December 1998, at the end of the commission’s era, it launched the landscape character map for England.  Again I sat at the back and I put up my hand.  There was no doubt trepidation, then surprise, when I said that this was the commission’s last public event and I thanked it for 30 years of excellent work.

For all my criticism at the time, I look back on the commission’s reign (1968-1999) as a golden era compared with its equivalent now, Natural England.  The commission had money and government support and it made things happen.

web FP sign

So I was delighted to go to the commission’s fiftieth anniversary event, organised by former staff, on 7 July in Cheltenham, the commission’s home from 1974.  It was a fabulous do at Gloucester University, with more than a hundred staff present, to celebrate the commission’s achievements and to meet old friends.

The day was organised by Jenifer White and Katharine Hope, who did a grand job.

Jenifer and Katharine

Jenifer and Katharine

There were displays of memorabilia to enjoy, including this photo from about 1983.

Richard Lloyd, Roy Hickey, x and Ed Holdaway

The south-west regional team on Clifton Downs, Bristol, in about 1983. Left to right: Richard Lloyd (regional officer), Roy Hickey (admin and South West Coast Path). Paul Davison and Edward Holdaway (senior countryside officers).

We gathered outside for various group photos.

Group pic

Group photo, a bit like herding cats

Rec and access

Some of the recreation and access team, there were many more with the Countryside Commission than with its successor, Natural England

After lunch we went to the lecture theatre for excellent talks by Adrian Phillips (director,  1981-92), Michael Dower (director general 1992-69) and Marian Spain (former countryside officer in the south east region).


They told of the history and the dynamism of the commission, born of a time when attention was turning to the everyday countryside close to people’s homes.  An early director, Reg Hookway, mercurial and ebullient, introduced ideas from the United States of countryside interpretation; he brought together a young team and drove people forward.  Balanced by emollient and influential chairmen, he won the attention and support of government.

13 path to the Wrekin

Well-maintained footpath to the Wrekin in Telford

The commission achieved much because it used its powers of experimentation and innovation, to invent countryside stewardship, parish paths partnership, millennium greens and much else.  I should have appreciated more the work it did to highlight and nurture the rights-of-way system: ‘the single, most important means of access to and enjoyment of the countryside’.  It found ways of funding local authorities to do rights-of-way work.  In 1987 it set the target of all paths to be in good order by the year 2000 (they were not of course, but it focused attention on them).

It championed common land, setting up the Common Land Forum.  It strongly opposed the deregistration of commons, exposing loopholes in the law and defending Dallowgill Moor common in North Yorkshire against removal from the register.  It was prepared to take court action to establish important legal precedents—Sunningwell village green in Oxfordshire was thus saved following a hearing in the House of Lords.

Sunningwell VG

Sunningwell village green. Photo: Steve Morgan

It also believed in protecting our most beautiful landscapes, and courageously appeared at public inquiries in opposition to government departments, such as the Sharp inquiry into military training on Dartmoor in 1975 (against the Ministry of Defence) and the Okehampton bypass inquiry in 1979-80 (against the Department for Transport).

Fur Tor

The view north-west from Fur Tor, in the military live-firing area of the Dartmoor National Park

It invented millennium greens as a way of securing permanent green spaces with public access in towns and villages. And it backed statutory access to open country, when the Labour government appeared to be wobbling on its manifesto pledge.

As Adrian explained, the commission trod the fine line between criticising government (for example over the privatisation of the water companies with the associated threat to public access to water-gathering grounds) and stepping in to help, as it did after the 1987 storm by swiftly creating Task Force Trees.  It hatched Groundwork and the National Forest.a-forest-in-the-making

Michael Dower observed that the commission had an impressive degree of delegation, with equal opportunities and advancement of women and men.  The National Forest was an important legacy, created because the commission was light on the ground and worked through landowners.  Its countryside stewardship invention was later embraced by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Fight for beauty
Marian Spain looked to the future.  We must fight for beauty, talk about it and measure it.  We must provide leadership for the national movement of national parks, and secure proper restoration of nature there.  And we must continue to promote rights of way which are under threat from austerity: we need statistics to hold landowners and local authorities to account.  She is so right.


Addleborough in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

I am so glad I was there, and I was delighted to recognise so many people with whom I had worked in both the commission and its immediate successor the Countryside Agency.  I had invited myself but then discovered that the event was for former employees and commissioners, and I was the only person who had been neither.  Fortunately no one minded and they were much more welcoming than in the New Yorker cartoon below.


Credit: New Yorker

Indeed, as we all agreed, one of the best features of the commission is the people.  If only we could have it—and them—back!

Posted in Access, commons, green spaces, National parks, Public paths | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Changing the world

On the late Nelson Mandela’s centenary I can do no better than quote his inspiring advice to campaigners.

Vision without action is only dreaming,
action without vision is only passing time,
but vision with action can change the world.


Credit: BBC

Nelson Mandela, 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013


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All rest-days cancelled

I joined the anti-Trump demo near Chequers, where President Trump was meeting Prime Minister Theresa May this morning.  The demo was at Butlers Cross, about a mile from Chequers.  As the road past Chequers had been closed, this spot was the closest we could get to the big house.

3a road closed

About 400 protesters gathered at the crossroads where there were wide grass verges.

1 Crowd

Part of the crowd

I had hoped for a walk but there was no one in charge, and no speeches or marches, just occasional outbreaks of chanting.  (If it had been a Ramblers’ event it would have been better organised!)

There was a good selection of posters,

4 Poster 1

5 Poster 2

6 Poster 3

7 Poster 4
















two giant puppets,

2 puppets

a pair in wigs,

9 Trump wigsand, despite the heat, a selection of knitted ‘pussy hats’.

8 Pussy hat

There were plenty of police on hand, although they had little to do.

3 police

Plenty of police, just in case

After a while I left the demo and walked back to Ellesborough.  I took the footpath across the field to Beacon Hill, beautifully-shaped like a child’s drawing, on the Chiltern escarpment.

10 Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill

With some difficulty, we won a right to walk here under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  The rooftop of Chequers are just visible from the top, so I wanted to check that access was not being denied on this demo day.

12 Chequers

Chequers rooftops from Beacon Hill

Because of the proximity of Chequers, Beacon Hill is surrounded by land where trespass has been made a criminal offence under section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.  (In fact, at first the criminal-trespass land wrongly extended over the access land, and I had to lobby parliament to get it corrected—see here.)

11 View from Beacon Hill

The view from Beacon Hill

Today all was well, there were about ten policemen on the other side of the fence but no one stopped me from walking where I had the right to go.

Drafted in
I chatted to some of the police.  They had been drafted in from the West Midlands force and told me that, on account of Trump’s visit, all rest-days had been cancelled.  In fact they were having quite a rest on the top of the hill in the shade of an awning, but that’s not the point.

16 awning

Because of Trump’s insistence on visiting, they had been forced to desert their home patch, where already their numbers have been savagely cut, in order to ensure there were no incidents in Buckinghamshire.

There was a new temporary fence beyond the existing fence, and plenty of signs about criminal trespass—but the new, temporary signs had been prepared so quickly that no one had bothered to check the spelling of ‘trespass’.

14 Sign

Existing sign

15 Tresspass sign

New, temporary sign










It was pleasant to chat to the police and fill them in on rights-of-way and access law, on which they receive no training.  They do not consider it to be a priority, but I am sure it would be useful to them.

Posted in Access, campaigns, walking | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments