A gentle but lasting impression

Today, 7 February, would have been Ian Berry’s ninetieth birthday.  Ian, who died last September, was a good friend for more than 40 years. 

Pa in TrilbyWe met at Hillbridge Farm on Dartmoor in the early 1970s when Ian with his wife Paddy (as I have always known her, though she is really Janet) and their boys Howard and Julian visited for family holidays and I was there riding.  Paddy had known Dee Ivey, who owned Hillbridge, from their days in Buckinghamshire, so the connections ran deep.  We had a lot of fun together, and one day, to give Dee a break from us all, the Berry family invited me on a day out to Trebarwith Strand, near Bude, for a swim.

Ian was one of the kindest and most considerate people I have ever known.  When we were at Hillbridge he was always willing to help out, quietly getting on with washing dishes and other chores while the rest of us were outside, doing things with ponies.  He was invariably cheerful, selfless and interested in others, with a twinkling sense of fun.  He was also practical.  It was Ian who patiently spent ages with a spirit level to ensure all the tables were steady for my birthday party on the rough ground of the paddock.

Ironically, as so often happens I learnt much about Ian at this funeral.  This was at the peaceful Barton Glebe woodland burial ground near Cambridge last October.  His sister Rowena spoke of their Yorkshire upbringing and surprised me when she said that Ian lost his temper when his brother Tony bowled him out or beat him at chess.  I had never known Ian show anger.

Howard and Julian, in a conversation, presented some thoughtful and amusing reflections on their father.  After qualifying as a chartered architect, a vocation which combined art and science, Ian moved to London.  It was there, while he was studying and teaching philosophy at evening classes, that he met Paddy.  They were married in 1960 and moved to Harrow.  Ian spent his whole 40-year career with the same company of architects; he liked his routines and for things to be organised and predictable.  He hated putting anyone to trouble: his former secretary told how he never answered the phone until he had picked up a pencil because he didn’t want to keep the caller waiting once the conversation had started.

Although Ian was virtually blind in one eye and had suffered from cancer and double pneumonia, he never complained and didn’t let such disabilities slow him down.  When he retired, they moved to the Chilterns where they enjoyed their passions for walking, the natural world and the countryside.  Ian loved poring over Ordnance Survey maps to plan an interesting hike and it was a bitter disappointment to him when he was no longer able to walk or mow the lawn.  Howard and Julian concluded: ‘He was a contented man with a positive outlook on life—never greedy, not ambitious not demanding—yet making a gentle but lasting impression on most people he met’.

He certainly made a lasting impression on me.  If only there were more Ians in this world—it would be a much more agreeable place.



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The decline and fall of Beacon Fell

Last week I wrote an Open Spaces Society press release about Lancashire County Council’s intention to ditch its countryside sites. A few days later I came across the second report of the Countryside Commission, for the year ending 30 September 1969, which celebrates the establishment of those sites.  

The commission was then a new body, formed by the Countryside Act 1968 from the post-war National Parks Commission with a wider remit extending to the countryside as a whole.

The report rightly expresses disappointment at the many threats to national parks—military training and reservoirs on Dartmoor, potash mining in the North York Moors for instance.  (In those days government agencies were much more independent and allowed to express their own views.)  However, it is full of optimism about the commission’s new role to encourage, assist and promote facilities for public enjoyment of the countryside, such as country parks and picnic sites.

Country park
It quotes the Countryside Act 1968: ‘A country park is a park or pleasure ground for the purpose of providing or improving opportunities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public’. The commission amplified the definition to ‘an area of land, or land and water, normally not less than 25 acres in extent, designed to offer to the public, with or without charge, opportunity for recreational activities in the countryside’.  The 1968 act gave local authorities new powers to provide, maintain and manage country parks, and the commission was able to grant aid them.


Beacon Fell (Wikipedia)


Country park symbol

The annual report celebrates the rapid progress of country-park provision, on the recommendation of the commission and approval by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. ‘The response of local authorities and some private owners, even in this period of financial stringency [sound familiar?] to the provisions of the Countryside Act relating to country parks and picnic sites has been as remarkable as it is welcome.’

One of these parks was Lancashire County Council’s Beacon Fell—269 acres of moorland and woodland about eight miles north of Preston which had been bought by the council under the access powers of the national Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.  It is in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and ‘forms a distinctive feature of the landscape, with fine views over the coastal plain and across Bleasdale.  The park will be within reach of many large centres of population in the north-west’.  The commission’s pleasure at this venture is evident from its report.


web Beacon Fell and Bowland

From the Countryside Commission’s 1969 report, captioned: A view from Beacon Fell , Lancashire, where the county council, with the aid of the commission, are setting up a country park.

For the last 45 years Beacon Fell has been immensely popular and much loved.  How tragic that Lancashire County Council should now decide that from 2018 it will stop looking after Beacon Fell and its other countryside sites, such as Wycoller, Crook O’Lune and Warton Crag, which bring such pleasure and refreshment to urban people. The argument is of course money.  The council must save £262 million over the next five years, and so it is consulting about the future of its countryside sites which are a discretionary power not a statutory duty.  But such places are needed now more than ever.

How we have fallen from those heady days when public bodies believed that money spent on outdoor recreation was a good investment.



Posted in Access, AONB, green spaces, Open Spaces Society, Uncategorized, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My favourite hill? White Tor

Countryfile magazine asked me to describe a walk taking in my favourite hill. So I chose White Tor in the Dartmoor National Park.

I have known western Dartmoor for most of my life, initially on ponyback and now because I love to walk there.  White (pronounced Whit) Tor which stands above the Tavy valley is my favourite vantage point.  On the broad summit, among the multitude of rocks and clitter, there are stone structures which were originally assumed to be an iron age hillfort but are more likely a neolithic enclosure—the uncertainty adds to the mystery.  It’s wonderful to explore the layers of history to be found on Dartmoor, a true palimpsest.

My walk starts from the Pork Hill car park on the B3357, and heads for Staple Tor with its rock towers,

web Staple Tor

Staple Tor

then nearby Roos Tor

Mis Tor from Roos Tor

Great Mis Tor from Roos Tor

and across a wild stretch of moorland to the Langstone Moor stone circle.  This is a low, prehistoric structure close to an ancient settlement of hut circles.   One can imagine people living on this silent hillside, commanding a fine prospect down the Walkham Valley, a view which in the misty autumn-light may hardly have changed over the centuries.


Walkham valley

The wild Walkham valley

Gt Mis and hut circle

Stone circle with the Walkham valley and Great Mis Tor beyond







To the half-left, forming part of this same archaeological landscape, stands the Langstone menhir, a noble stone with telltale shell-holes: the military, which trains on Dartmoor, once abused it as a target.

Langstone menhir

Langstone menhir

Then you deviate from the track to clamber to the summit of White Tor.  From here you can see the folding slopes of Tavy Cleave and follow the horizon clockwise round the curve of Standon Hill, the long sweep of Lynch Tor and beyond to Fur Tor and Cut Hill in the heart of the moor.  Westwards you can see into Cornwall and the lumpy hills of Bodmin Moor, then round to the sparkling sea at Plymouth Sound.  It is a view of which I never tire.

web White Tor

Great Mis Tor from White Tor

Below is the inconspicuous Stephen’s Grave where George Stephens is buried.  He committed suicide because a girl was unfaithful to him and it is said that, at the moment he was buried, linen which was hanging out to dry at nearby Higher Godsworthy was caught in a freak wind and lost for ever.

Stephen's grave

Stephen’s grave

From here you follow the path down to Wedlake Farm, passing more prehistoric huts and crossing the Colly Brook by a ford.


Wedlake with Roos and Staple Tors beyond

Then it’s back up the hill with the slopes of Staple and Cox Tor rising comfortably on either side, and down to the car park.

Walk route



Posted in Access, Dartmoor, National parks, walking, wild country | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dee’s centenary

My friend Dee Ivey would have been 100 today, 28 January 2016, and so I am thinking of her especially, and the huge influence she had on me and numerous other pony-loving children. She introduced me to Dartmoor and to its champion Sylvia Sayer, and in so doing she set me on my campaigning career.  I owe her so much.  This is the obituary I wrote for the Western Morning News in February 2002.


Dee Ivey

‘There’s something romantic about travelling west’ Dee Ivey once said to me as I arrived at her Dartmoor farm for a childhood holiday.  And I knew just what she meant.  Hundreds of children travelled west, to be with Dee and her ponies.

Dee, who lived for 41 years at Hillbridge Farm, above the tumbling River Tavy near Peter Tavy, died on 3 February 2002 aged 86.

Love of horses
Dee’s love of horses started when, as a small child, her Uncle Douglas put her on a pony and slapped its quarters, telling Dee to ‘hang on’.  Being more frightened of her uncle than the pony she remained glued to the saddle.

During the war she was on Exmoor, where she broke and rode Exmoor ponies. By intellectual contrast, she undertook a remarkable sociological study, for Mass Observation, recording everyday life of Luccombe.  This was published in 1947 as Exmoor Village and only last summer Dee was still able to name the faces in the book.

Dee Devon County Show with Star M&M class 19 May 1974

Dee on Star, the Dales mare, in the Mountain and Moorland class at Devon County Show, 1974

Dee established her own riding school in Buckinghamshire where countless childen spent countless happy hours.  Among the carefree chaos there was discipline, for Dee expected everything to be done absolutely correctly for her ponies.  When Bucks became too traffic-ridden, she moved to Dartmoor with a lorry-load of ponies.

Dee with Mouse and Sailor 11 Jan 1994 for Cman

Dee with Mouse and Sailor the cat in January 1994

She arrived at the start of a wet winter in 1960 and her new neighbours were convinced she would not stay.  But they didn’t know Dee.

Soon after, Dartmoor faced one of its worst winters and Dee was out on the moor in blizzards rescuing ponies—and there were no mobile phones then.  She was a founder member of the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society (DLPS) and later its chairman.  There are still DLPS ponies on her farm today, such as Rufus, rescued from Ashburton market in 1972.

It was tough for a lone woman on Dartmoor.  Dee, small and birdlike, but fly and resourceful, was a survivor.  Soon she started riding holidays.  Money was never her strong point and she charged only £12 a week.  It was a week of heaven: lessons from Dee, enthusiastic ponies tugging to gallop on the moor, swims in the Tavy, barbeques by the river.  Time was not Dee’s strong point either.  On Saturday mornings the stationmaster at Tavistock station would hold the train until the green van full of children came bouncing up the hill.  Always short of money, Dee ensured that any spare went to her growing family of ponies.

Dee with Fleur 23 Jun 94

Dee with Twinkle, a foal rescued from the moor who became a trusted and willing riding pony for children, June 1994

It’s impossible to count how many ponies found happy homes at Hillbridge in 41 years, or how many children like me discovered the moor—but Dee was the key to it all.  She taught us so much and brought us all such happiness.

In 2000 Dee suffered a stroke which confined her to a wheelchair—a tragedy for such an energetic, outdoor person. She died in her own bed with a fire blazing in the grate, while outside 18 plump, contented ponies munched in the fields.


K and Dee by Ian 13 Apr 99

Dee in April 1999. Photo: Ian Berry

Postcript: Hillbridge is still a heavenly place and, in the efficient and sensitive hands of Marion Saunders with invaluable help from Karla McKechnie, it retains its character and is home to many happy ponies.  I am so lucky to have known it all for 51 years, and to have known Dee for 37 of them.

Dee Ivey, 28 January 1916 – 3 February 2002

Posted in Dartmoor, Dartmoor livestock, Memories, Obituary, People, riding, wild country | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paths at our heart

Yesterday representatives of path-user groups in Buckinghamshire met the county council’s portfolio holder for transportation, Mark Shaw.  In common with many others the council faces huge cuts, but we had a sympathetic hearing from Mark.

He made clear his commitment to rights of way, their future and their budget.  He assured us that he doesn’t merely see the worth of the rights-of-way network, he sees its need: ‘rights of way are at the heart of what we produce at Transport for Buckinghamshire’. But in these straitened times we have to find other ways of doing things and he recognises the value of volunteers.

Here are the arguments put forward by the British Horse Society, Chiltern Society, CTC, Open Spaces Society and Ramblers.

web footpath signPublic paths give excellent value for money.  Relatively small sums achieve a great deal.

They are good for our physical and mental health and well-being. Regular walking slashes the incidence of heart disease, strokes, diabetes type 2, colon and breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s.  It reduces obesity.  This all helps to reduce the council’s costs on social care and care of the elderly

WAW logoPublic paths boost Buckinghamshire’s economy.  Walkers, riders and cyclists spend money when they visit the county. Chesham Walkers Are Welcome town has shown the popularity of walking which helps local businesses.  The British Horse Society has produced a report with evidence that riding brings £57 million year-round into Bucks.

State of the paths
Bucks has had an excellent record for the state of its paths, but now this is declining rapidly.  The staff work incredibly hard and we cannot praise them enough, but they are severely impeded by lack of resources.

The Best Value Performance Indicator for the state of paths has fallen in the last year from 84% to 65% easy to use.  The number of outstanding problems has risen from 799 at the end of March 2012 to 1,550 on 14 January 2016, ie it has doubled in four years.

GLK FP27 pic 3

Great and Little Kimble footpath 27 needs attention

The staff numbers in the rights-of-way section have been reduced in recent years from three Area Officers and four Assistants to two Area Officers and two Assistants; grossly insufficient for a large county with 3,300 km of paths.  The crucial post of Rights of Way Officer (south) is vacant and has been frozen.  We should like it to be unfrozen.

Using volunteers
There are many volunteers, in the Chiltern Society, Ramblers and other organisations, eager to do work on the paths but they are unable to realise their potential because the council does not have the staff to do the preliminary negotiations and checks with landowners, nor the materials for the work.  So the council is shooting itself in the foot if it does not provide the necessary support.

We therefore believe that the rights-of-way service is a critical function of the council and that money spent on it is an investment in the county’s future.

heading for home

Our meeting was encouraging and we look forward to working with Mark and the rights-of-way team to secure funding and support for the invaluable path-network.

Posted in Access, British Horse Society, Bucks, campaigns, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, riding, Uncategorized, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stile-free walks for Turville

In 2014 Turville Parish Council in Bucks consulted parishioners about how to spend its budget surplus to benefit the community.  The surplus at 31 March was about £6,500 with further surpluses anticipated (for instance from Community Infrastructure Levy on large new properties in the parish).

After some discussion it agreed a three-year programme to remove the Himalayan Balsam from Turville Heath common (total estimated cost £7,500), and a two-year project to replace stiles on footpaths with gates.  The latter made use of the Chiltern Society’s excellent Donate a Gate scheme, the plan being to replace four stiles in each of the two years at a total cost of £2,000.

The first four gates have been installed on Turville footpaths 17 and 19, between Summer Heath Wood and Southend, providing a stile-free walk from Turville Heath to Stonor in Oxfordshire.

If you walk from Summer Heath you come first to a wooden kissing-gate on the edge of the wood, which replaced the stile.

web FP17 looking SW

Turville FP 17 at GR 753 916 looking SE, before

web FP17 looking SW gate

and after








The other three gates are metal, which is unfortunate; they are banausic and unattractive in the landscape.  However that is my personal view and I know some people prefer them.

web FP17 and 19 2 looking SE

FP 17  at GR 754 917 looking SE

web FP17 and 19 2 looking SE gate










web FP17 and 19 3 looking NW

FP 17 at GR 754 918 looking NW

web FP17 and 19 3 looking NW gate











web FP19 jct BW1

Junction of FP 19 and BW 1 at Southend (GR 755 898)

web FP19 jct BW1 gate2












The plan had been to have two stiles on footpath 17 and two on footpath 4 (between Turville Court and the entrance to Wormsley) replacing the stiles below.  Unfortunately the landowner would not agree.

web FP4 at jct with 4A

FP 4 at GR 748 916

web FP4 at road

Turville FP4 at GR 749 918








Although the parish council agreed the funding for two years, we now have a new council and the expenditure for the next four gates needs to be agreed at the March meeting.  I have photographed most of the stiles in the parish, such as those below which could do with replacement.

web FP21A jct BW1

Turville FP 21A at its junction with BW 1 (GR 756 898)

web FP14 looking E

Two stiles on Turville FP 14 at GR 748 910










However, the parish council’s aim is to select those which will make a stile-free walk, to get the most out of its investment.

After the parish council’s four there are still more stiles to tackle, and Donate a Gate is a good way to achieve the change.  Of course there may be places where there is no livestock and no barrier is necessary.  Gaps are definitely best!

Posted in Access, Chilterns, Public paths, Turville, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

So no more

I was pleased that Private Eye this week poked fun at that annoying habit of starting a sentence with ‘So’.  

Private Eye so cartoon

Private Eye

It is one of those pointless locutions which buys the speaker time to think what to say next. In the same category are ‘like’, ‘you know’, ‘I mean’ and ‘sort of’.  The Concise Oxford Dictionary explains that it is an adverb (meaning ‘to such an extent’) and a conjunction (‘in order that’).  It does not list ‘so’ as a meaningless filler.



Posted in grammar, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments