Grabbing my chance

As a member of the Ramblers’ board of trustees, I visit many interesting places—but, ironically for a Rambler, I spend most of that time indoors.

Take Ramblers’ Scottish Council, for instance.  This is the annual meeting of the Ramblers in Scotland.  It is good to see what is happening there and to learn from their experiences. The meeting over the weekend of 11-12 March was excellent.  We met in Dunblane, just north of Stirling, which I had not visited before—and I had to grab every opportunity to get outside.

We arrived on Friday evening.  We stayed at the Hydro hotel, an imposing building which first opened in 1878 as a Victorian health spa.

Dunblane hydro

Dunblane Hydro.

As the weekend’s events did not start until 1 pm on Saturday, those of us who had come early were keen to join the morning walk led by Ray Findlay of Stirling and Falkirk District Ramblers.  He took us north-east through forestry to Sheriff Muir.

Rights of access in Scotland are far greater than in England, and are governed by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, as explained by the statutory 133-page Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

forest sign

I passed the sign pictured above which I found interesting because I am not sure that there is any requirement to keep to footpaths unless there are Forestry Authority bylaws, and I also wonder whether they can prevent riders on horses and ponies from going there.

The sign below is also interesting because it explains that the forest is part-dependent on European funding.  What is its future?


We came out of the forest and would have had a fine view of the Ochil Hills to the east but for the low cloud. However, it was not low enough to obscure a disastrous piece of old-fashioned, angular-edged forestry plonked on the hilltop.

View to Ochils

Looking east to the Ochils.

We joined a back road by the Clan MacRae monument (grid reference NN815019), which was erected in memory of the MacRaes.  Many of the clan members were killed at Sheriff Muir on 13 November 1715 while fighting with the Jacobites.


Clan MacRae monument.

Nearby, on a nice stretch of lowland heath, there is a gathering stone—a former standing stone, now on its side and protected by iron hoops.  It is said to have been the site where the Jacobite standard was placed at the start of the battle.

gathering stone

Gathering stone.



Lowland heath.






It was a good walk, but I was frustrated that I had not yet seen Dunblane.  The only chance for that was early on Sunday morning.  So I set off at 7am with Van Griffiths, the Ramblers’ chief executive, and Chris Hodgson, chair of Ramblers Cymru.  We walked into the town past the Leighton library, the oldest private library in Scotland which is open to the public.

Leighton library building

Leighton library

Leighton library








The cathedral is a massive, largely thirteenth-century structure with an eleventh-century bell tower (originally free-standing) on the south side.

Dunblane cathedral

Dunblane cathedral

cathedral door









The Allan Water flows below the cathedral.  The town formerly  had a thriving milling and weaving industry.

view upstream

Looking upstream.

As we stood on the small bridge across the river we heard the chattering of grey wagtails above the roar of the river and then saw three.  I shall treasure that memory because they cheered a grey morning.

Grey wagtail

Grey wagtail

We walked back beside the river with a good view of the cathedral looming over the railway bridge.

Dunblane cathedral and river

And so we returned indoors, but at least we had made the most of the spare moments to explore the splendid surroundings.  I was sad that I had to leave before the walk in the Ochils on Sunday afternoon.



Posted in Access, Ramblers, Scotland, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hanging in the wind

Spring was returning to Otmoor in Oxfordshire when I visited yesterday.  To the zipping of lapwings, tee-hu-hu of redshank, twittering of linnets and song of chiffchaffs, I strolled down the paths to the hides.  

The best moment was when I was at the southern viewing screen, and both a female hen harrier and a male marsh harrier emerged to float over the redbeeds.  They were close together and it was evident how much smaller is the hen harrier, and more graceful too as it hovered and glided, ‘hanging in the wind’ as a fellow birdwatcher said.  Its beautiful stripey markings and white tail patch were clearly visible.  You can see a video here.

harrier spot

The harriers were above the reed beds.

Suddenly there was a burst of song right next to the hide and I was just in time to see a Cetti’s warbler disappearing into the undergrowth, the first time I had seen one.

Cetti's spot

Cetti’s bush.

So once again, a memorable day at Otmoor.

Posted in Birds, Natural history | 2 Comments

Roe 8: stopped in its tracks

A week ago work on the devastating Roe 8 highway, part of the Perth Freight Link in Western Australia, was halted.  The four-lane, five-kilometre highway, which was gobbling its way through the incomparable Beeliar Wetlands and attracting massive opposition, was stopped in its tracks by Western Australia’s new government, elected  on 11 March.


I first wrote about this campaign in January as the bulldozers moved in.  The opponents were pinning their hopes on ousting the Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, at the election on 11 March. They succeeded.  Labor’s Mark McGowan, who had pledged his opposition to the development, was elected with a thumping majority.  And, true to his word, he has stopped work on the road.

This was not before a large amount of damage was done; many of the native Noongar people have been dispossessed and brave campaigners have been arrested for obstructing the diggers.  But now that work has stopped the remaining wetlands can be preserved, with their population of endangered Carnaby’s cockatoos, and the damaged areas gradually revegetated.


Carnaby’s cockatoo

It is not clear how the financial position will be resolved.  The contractors must be compensated and most of the funding comes from the federal government.  Of course the money should be spent on public transport instead.

The Perth Freight Link was intended to provide a transport corridor between the industrial area of Perth and the port of Fremantle, but objectors have repeatedly shown that this would lead to gridlocks, bringing traffic and pollution into Perth, with no easy connection to the port.  They argued that it would be far more sensible to provide a new port to the south, at Kwinana, and serve it by rail and roads in the industrial areas.

There is a chance to have the right solution at last. Let’s hope it happens.  But meanwhile, we should pay tribute to the courageous and steadfast campaigners who kept up a solid protest throughout and helped to get Mr McGowan elected.

Posted in Access, campaigns, commons | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A busy field

‘This will become quite a busy field’, said our walk leader, Roy Johnson, as we stood in the middle of a stubble field on Stoke Mandeville footpath 11 (grid reference SP 824104).

It was the walk which preceded the Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area AGM, and Roy was showing us the land which was threatened by HS2, East-West Rail’s new line between Aylesbury and Princes Risborough, and the Stoke Mandeville bypass.  All three would happen in this one field.

But it’s a busy field now, I thought, it’s busy with skylarks.  There were lots of them, flying up and singing in the early spring sunshine.  It seems that no one had bothered to think about whose habitat they were destroying.


Skylark field

The walk itself, a circular from Stoke Mandeville, was very informative, showing us the points where HS2 crosses public footpaths, the potential effect of East-West Rail on the paths across railways, and the line of the proposed Stoke Mandeville bypass.


Roy Johnson points out the route of HS2

It is excellent when Ramblers’ groups lead walks which show issues with which we are involved.  That is the difference between Ramblers and most other walking groups: we are campaigning for paths and access, and we need to show everyone what we do and consequently why our subscriptions are somewhat higher than those of the average walking club.

We also need to take our members on the less-used paths, so that their feet tread out overgrown, cropped or ploughed-out ways.  That is why, in 1997, the Ramblers’ board of trustees proposed a motion to the organisation’s general council (AGM): ‘This General Council calls on areas, as a fillip to the Free Your Paths campaign, to encourage every group to organise throughout the year at least some walks on the less-used and poorer-maintained paths in the group’s and area’s territory.’  It was carried overwhelmingly, but I fear that few groups do this.


Crossing which East-West Rail plans to close, diverting the path to a new footbridge nearby

There is so much to tell our members about: our achievements and our battles.  By showing people what we do, and taking them on the less-walked paths, we can encourage them to lend a hand in our continuing crusade.


Posted in Access, Birds, Bucks, campaigns, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning through walking

The Ramblers try to arrange for a member of the board of trustees to go to every area AGM.  They are normally held between November and March. With 59 areas in England, Scotland and Wales, that is potentially quite an undertaking, but a worthwhile one.  It is an important means of communication: trustees learn what is happening in the areas, gather good practice and report to the centre, and  members can find out more about what the Ramblers are doing in the three nations.

I have been to five AGMs this season including my own area (Bucks, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex).  A particularly enjoyable part of an AGM is the walk.  This is usually held before the meeting, which is useful as I can gather information for my talk.

My most recent AGM was Somerset Area, which embraces the county of Somerset and the western half of North Somerset.


We met in the Quantock village of Nether Stowey at 10.30 am and walked through fields to the village of Over Stowey, stopping in the crocus-adorned churchyard for coffee.


Over Stowey church

I had time to pop into the church and see the fine Burne-Jones windows on the north aisle.


On the next stretch we walked through Rectory Wood


and then onto a hilltop where, but for the mist, we would have seen over the Severn estuary to the Welsh hills.  Instead the vista was dominated by Hinckley Point power station.


We joined the Coleridge Way and took a footpath above a stream which is a bridleway.


Bridleway at grid reference ST178395.

On the way back we took a detour over Nether Stowey castle, built in the twelfth century by Alfred of Spain.



The two rows of council houses (presumably now privately owned) were visible from the keep, not a bad design but stupidly sited outside the village of which they were supposed to be a part.img_7875

As we walked back through Nether Stowey I looked for Walkers Are Welcome town signs, as Nether and Over Stowey have recently been accredited.  I was pleased to see a couple and I know that there will soon be many more.  Their website is here.  With the Ramblers’ Sedgemoor Group the towns are organising the Quantock Walking Festival, details here.


The walk enabled me both to see some splendid countryside and to learn from those to whom I chatted—about their walks and working parties, their publicity successes and recruitment problems.  They have done excellent work helping Natural England to identify the route for the England Coast Path, and in fighting path changes at public inquiries.  In my talk after the AGM I was able to emphasise the role of Ramblers’ areas, as campaigning units, helping to coordinate the groups, and acting as the hub for information flow between the centre and the membership.

Somerset Area was struggling to find officers; the secretary was willing to become the chair but needed someone else to take over as secretary.  Fortunately, although no one offered at the AGM, he has since found a volunteer to become secretary, which is wonderful news. We need a Ramblers’ Somerset Area to lobby the county council, and the part of North Somerset in its patch.  Somerset County Council does not have a good record on rights of way and a Ramblers’ terrier at its heels will help to achieve results.

Posted in Access, campaigns, Public paths, Ramblers, Walkers Are Welcome Towns, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hazel Perham, Cornwall’s campaigner

Hazel Perham, a heroic campaigner from Treverva in west Cornwall, died on 20 February aged 74. She was immensely brave, a fiesty fighter for paths and access, and ever cheerful.  Born and brought up in Dagenham she never lost her Essex accent, but was very much at home in Cornwall where she lived with her husband Alan, and her family close by.


She was very much part of the Treverva community, and her friends on Facebook have enjoyed the galaxy of old photos and memories which she posted there when her illness prevented her from walking.

Hazel saved countless paths and made west Cornwall a much better place for walkers, we owe her so much.

This is the blog I wrote about her last October when she was presented with a Ramblers’ award.

No one could be more deserving of recognition for Ramblers’ volunteer effort than my friend Hazel Perham from Treverva in west Cornwall.  This week she received a certificate from the Ramblers for her outstanding contribution to walking.


Hazel, who tragically can no longer walk far because of illness, has devoted her life to improving conditions for walkers on the battlegrounds of West Cornwall.  For far too long Cornwall’s inland paths were in a deplorable condition, with severe blockages particularly through farmyards, and there was hostility to walkers (despite our contribution to the Cornish economy).

Small in stature but with huge courage, Hazel would combat these, and was a terrier at the heels of the council and intransigent landowners.

I was pleased to join Hazel, and her colleague Maureen Donovan, in opposing the diversion of Manaccan footpaths 7 and 21 at Trevaddra Farm on the Lizard peninsula where Cornwall County Council had connived with an obstructive landowner. We won following a public inquiry in 1996 at which I called Hazel as one of my witnesses, and we won our costs too. But two years earlier she had been with a group of ramblers who were accosted by the landowner, Edward Bone; he grabbed her and threw mud and dung at her.  Such charming behaviour was not unknown in Cornwall in those days.


Hazel (left) with Maureen Donovan

For years Hazel was footpath secretary for Kerrier, chairman of the Cornwall Ramblers’ Access Group and a pillar of the Penwith/Kerrier Group, regularly leading walks through her beloved countryside.

The best day
Says Hazel: As I sit in my chair remembering all my varied works and achievements for the Ramblers I chuckle to myself. The best day was when I got a very excited phone call from Head Office to tell me my name had just been read out in Parliament and a big cheer went up from the gallery. This happened after an awful lot of campaigning for access legislation, by continually writing to my MP Candy Atherton, and she told parliament I was always writing to her. The worst days were being bitten by a sheepdog in the back of the leg and another time was getting an electric shock from a heavy duty electric fence on the back of the head.  I’ve never been the same since.

Now Hazel keeps all her Facebook friends entertained with her many memories and photographs, particularly of Cornish life past and present.  She is a mine of information.


We have so much to thank Hazel for, and it is amazing that she has remained cheerful and smiling through all her adversities.  Thank you Hazel, you are a dear and loyal friend to all ramblers.

Hazel Perham, 20 January 1943 – 20 February 2017

Posted in Access, campaigns, Obituary, Obstructed path, People, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the Moor Butterflies on Common Wood

Common Wood: part 11

On 20 February the Dartmoor Preservation Association’s conservation volunteers returned to my land at Common Wood, near Horndon on Dartmoor.  This was their eighth workday here, and there were 15 of us, more than usual.  

This was the first time that the work was done under the auspices of Butterfly Conservation’s new All the Moor Butterflies project.  This three-year project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with support from the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park authorities, Cornwall AONB and Natural England, among others.  It aims to conserve and restore suitable habitats for certain butterfly species on Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor, and involve local people in learning about them and helping to preserve them.  The target species include three which we hope to encourage to Common Wood: Marsh, Small Pearl Bordered, and Pearl Bordered Fritillary.


Volunteers at work

The project’s new conservation officer, Simon Phelps (@WildlifePhelps) and community engagement officer, Megan Lowe (@naturemeg) guided us in our work.


Simon and Megan

We set off from Hillbridge Farm along the leat and Derek Collins hung a notice so that people walking there would know what was going on.


We headed down the steep slope and across a stream to the bosky bottom of the common, near where we worked last February.  Here is an area of rare Rhôs pasture (acid to neutral grassland), an important habitat for the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, but it is being threatened by the spread of willow, birch and gorse.

So we set to work at the north-east end, close to my boundary, clearing vegetation to uncover grassland and the vital food species for the butterfly, Devil’s Bit Scabious.

Some of us hacked the vegetation.


Chris tackles the gorse


Stephen and Claude saw up a birch tree







Others cleared it away, while yet others created a windrow, or bank, out of the cuttings.


John piles material onto the windrow


Rachel and Sylvia move the cuttings








Further to the south-west, Christian made a huge pile of gorse, which we divided into a second windrow.


Megan shows the height of the gorse pile


Another windrow







The site was a scene of industry from 11 am to 3pm, with only short breaks for coffee (and Val Barns’ yummy cake) and lunch.


Coffee break

When we had finished, we really could see a difference, we had pushed back the willow and gorse.  It was another great day’s work, and I hope that we see some butterflies there this year. The intention is to create a corridor for the Marsh Fritillaries along the upper Tavy valley. Thank you to Butterfly Conservation and the DPA volunteers for all your help with this work.













Posted in common land, Common Wood, Dartmoor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment