Smiling in the rain

The late Geoff Sayer (1930-2014) would have enjoyed the walk to his memorial gate at Swincombe in the Dartmoor National Park on Sunday 3 September.  His family were there and we used a home-made bridge, which would have delighted him. He would even have laughed at the torrential rain which soaked us the minute we got out of our cars.

Geoff 2012

Geoff Sayer in 2012

With much help from others, I led the walk for the Dartmoor Preservation Association, to dedicate the gate on the DPA’s land at Swincombe in memory of Geoff.

Geoff's gate

Geoff’s gate at Swincombe (SX 622711)

Geoff was the son of former DPA patrons Guy and Sylvia Sayer and twin brother of the late Oliver (Oz) Sayer. He became DPA treasurer immediately following Oz’s premature death in 1994.  Oz had served as treasurer before Geoff and both were brilliant in the role, keeping an eagle eye on cashflow while always being willing to release funds for Dartmoor’s battles.  Oz’s contribution is celebrated by a gate on the DPA’s land at High House Waste.

Oliver gate

Oliver Sayer’s gate at the western entrance to High House Waste (SX 607625)

We met in the Princetown car-park where members of the Sayer family, who had come from many places, greeted each other;  then we shared cars to the quarry car-park on the road to Whiteworks as parking space is limited.  There was no competition today because the weather was so awful.

Twenty nine of us walked down the road to Whiteworks and then struck out over the moor to the River Strane.  This is often quite difficult to cross and, as we had a party of mixed ability including Geoff’s three young grandchildren Archie, Finn and Megan, we were extremely grateful to Derek Collins who had built and installed a bridge for us. Geoff, who excelled at DIY, would have enjoyed the bridge, made from a metal step-ladder with a plank covered in chicken-wire to prevent slippage, and a handrail.


Bridge over the River Strane constructed by Derek Collins and his family

Thanks to Derek’s ingenuity we could cross quickly and easily, people and dogs.

Bridge and Gertie

Pen Gates (Geoff’s niece) and Gertie cross the bridge, George Sayer (Geoff’s daughter) is behind


Sign at the bridge – it is toll free to DPA members but beware of sharks

I was pleased to let Bill Radcliffe lead the walk.  He set off purposefully from the bridge in an easterly direction towards the wall which is the boundary of our land.  After a time we came to the gate with its plaque.  Bill had been out the day before to dig a ditch so that water ran away from the gate rather than congregating in a pool beneath it.

This was an excellent photo opportunity for the family.  The children took turns to wear their grandfather’s naval cap.


Sayer family gathering at the gate

Swincombe is just the right spot in which to remember Geoff because the DPA saved it from a reservoir in 1970.  Led by Sylvia Sayer, the DPA petitioned against the Plymouth and South West Devon Water Bill, which would have drowned the shallow valley with a reservoir covering 754 acres in the heart of Dartmoor.


The reservoir and the DPA’s land

A parliamentary committee of four MPs rejected the scheme without even hearing the opposition’s case.  Thanks to the DPA Swincombe remains wild and free.  In 1985 the DPA bought 50 acres here, with a legacy from Miss M L Trahair whose plaque is on a rock at Swincombe Gorge.

Swincombe gorge

Swincombe gorge where the dam would have been built, with plaque to Miss Trahair on the rock in centre foreground

We had intended to visit the gorge and the tinners’ huts nearby, and to walk to the eastern end of our land, but the rain was unceasing.  Instead we returned the way we had come, taking up the bridge and carrying it back to the DPA’s vehicle which was parked at Whiteworks.

The weather made it a particularly memorable walk, achieved by excellent teamwork by DPA volunteers.  You can read a further account here.)  It was fabulous that so many of Geoff’s family could be there.  More joined us for lunch afterwards at his niece Pen Gates’s house in the South Hams to make a total of 26—a real family celebration.

Geoff’s son Jim wrote a message afterwards which ended, movingly: ‘The walk came at the end of three days on the moor for us—during which I watched Archie, Finn and Meg explore the moor for the first time. It was lovely to see the next generation of the family start their Dartmoor odyssey—and in remembering Dad at Swincombe, they will always feel that connection.

Posted in Access, campaigns, Dartmoor, wild country | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Inca’s centenary

Inca, my black labrador friend who lives with Marion Saunders at Hillbridge Farm on Dartmoor, was 100 years old on 2 September.  She was born on 21 May 2003.  As seven dog years equal one calendar year, I calculated that at 14 years and 104 days she reached her centenary.  

I have known Inca nearly all her life, and have enjoyed many Dartmoor walks with her. She has slowed down now and largely just potters around the farm, but she has had the best of Dartmoor lives.

Inca on her birthday
Inca on her 100th birthday

She loved to run ahead to the top of a tor, to sniff for rabbits among the rocks.

Kes Tor 21 Aug 09

On Kes Tor, 21 August 2009

In 2005 Inca, Marion and I had a lovely holiday on Exmoor.  Here is Inca on Cow Castle near Simonsbath.

Cow Castle 19 Oct 05

On Cow Castle, 19 October 2005

Inca was a lively but always obedient puppy.  She has the sweetest nature.

Garden 17 Aug 03

In the garden at Hillbridge, three months old, on 17 August 2003

She had a love-hate relationship with the Hillbridge cats.

23 Aug 09

Eyeing each other, August 2009

Here are some photos from her very full and happy life.  She has many friends, human and canine.

24 May 09
Swimming in the Tavy, May 2009
21 Aug 10

At Lydford gorge, 2010

McKechnies 12 Sep 15

With the McKechnie family above the Tavy swimming-pool, September 2015

Inca Amanda

This drawing by Amanda David is a very good likeness

The queen remembered her birthday and sent her a card for her centenary.  Inca is a very special girl.



Posted in Dartmoor, Memories | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Enjoying sounds with Marika

A particular joy of walking with my friend Marika Kovacs, who is visually-impaired, is that I appreciate the sounds of the countryside.

Last weekend we did a circular walk from Bourton-in-the-Water in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, halfway between my home and Hereford, where Marika and her companions Arthur Lee and Duncan Smart live.

1 Marika and Duncan

Marika and Duncan

We walked over fields to Lower Slaughter, noting a broken footpath sign on the Monarch’s Way (which I have since reported to Gloucestershire County Council).  Then we followed the River Eye to Upper Slaughter, and came back over fields and alongside the River Windrush to Bourton.

4 Lower Slaughter Mill

The mill at Lower Slaughter

Marika, who is well able to lead her own walks using braille, just needs a light hand to guide her and a bit of warning about hazards or change in path surface.  She is such a good walker that one tends to forget to warn her, and we nearly walked into a closed gate (my fault).

She is particularly aware of sounds, and so we heard scolding nuthatches and wrens, the autumn song of the robin and a calling raven.

Long before I was aware of the chirruping grasshoppers, Marika was head down in grass listening to them.

5 listening to grasshoppers

Listening for grasshoppers

She likes to stand by a river and throw small stones, to assess the depth and width of the water.

3 Marika at Lr Slaughter

Marika and Arthur, throwing pebbles at Lower Slaugher

We had lunch in the churchyard at Upper Slaughter.

6 Upper Slaughter church

Upper Slaughter church

Locally-grown vegetables were on sale in the church and Marika filled her rucksack with potatoes and courgettes.  I admired the stained-glass window by Thomas Denny, installed in 1995 and depicting two themes: the 23rd psalm and the view from Upper Slaughter Manor to Wyck Hill.  The window is in the chapel commemorating Major General Witts and his wife, who owned the estate.

7 Thomas Denny window

Thomas Denny window at Upper Slaughter

A bit later we passed the entrance to the impressive Manor House where they lived.

8 Manor, Upper Slaughter

Manor House

It was a pleasure to walk with Marika, Arthur and Duncan and we hope to meet again for another walk in November.

2 Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter

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The walk to Nelson’s Seat

The White Cliffs Walking Festival in Kent offers 42 walks this year.  I went on a short one from Walmer on Thursday, immediately after the launch, to visit Nelson’s Seat.

There were about 40 of us, led by Diana Backwell.

4 setting off

Setting off along Walmer seafront

We walked along the seafront on the new England Coast Path (which is also the Saxon Shore Way), and turned right past Walmer Castle.

15 Walmer castle

Walmer Castle

We visited Upper Walmer and the Norman Blessed St Mary’s church,

5 church

and then crossed fields which had been threatened with development, but the planning application was about to expire so they should be safe.

7 threatened but safe now

We carried on through woods which I was told had until recently been fenced off by a hostile landowner but now were open again.

8 woods

We emerged at grid reference TR 359491 with a view ahead to fields where Hugh Craddock has applied for the addition to the definitive map of a four-metre-wide restricted byway.  Part of the route follows a definitive footpath, with an extension which connects with a public highway.  If his application succeeds there will no longer be a dead-end route on the definitive map, and there will be recorded rights for riders, cyclists and carriage drivers in addition to walkers—wins all round.

9 Hugh's path

From TR 359491 looking south-west, the application route runs from the hedge midway across the picture to the right of the wood

We followed a footpath close to Hugh’s route, which had been marked out over the recently-ploughed field, up to Nelson’s Seat at grid reference TR 360488.  There is a good view from here (65 metres above sea level) over Sandwich Bay—allegedly the one enjoyed by Nelson as he surveyed his fleet.

10 Nelson's seat

View from Nelson’s Seat

We crossed the same field again, this time on a path which had not been reinstated (needs checking after 14 days!) to Ripple Windmill.  This a grade II-listed smock mill and quite a landmark.

11 crossfield

This footpath must be reinstated 14 days after ploughing

We descended to the Dover Road and climbed the other side to Hawkshill open space, the former Walmer aerodrome.

14 open space

Hawkshill open space, the sea is to the right

It is owned by Walmer Parish Council.  I was pleased to see on the notice board that it had received support from the Countryside Agency’s Local Heritage Initiative, an excellent Heritage Lottery funded project with which I was involved when I was an agency board member.

12 Hawkshill Down sign

An interpretation board about the aerodrome had been installed earlier this month.  it was an aerodrome during World War I and a radar station in World War II.

13 aerodrome

We returned to the town for lunch on Walmer Green.  I walked north along the front to Deal, passing the bandstand.

17 bandstand

Deal bandstand

An information board explained that it had been constructed in 1993, as a memorial to the 11 members of the Royal Marines School of Music from Deal barracks who died in the IRA bombing on 22 September 1989.  The most famous verse of Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen is reproduced, but unfortunately, as so often happens, the words ‘grow’ and ‘not’ are transposed, which gives a different, less elegant, meaning.

16 Deal bandstand sign trs


I arrived at Deal station and caught the train home, glad to have had the opportunity to look in on the festival.

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Nancy Balfour, my spirited aunt

Twenty years ago, on 29 August 1997, my aunt Nancy Balfour died aged 86 at her flat in Eaton Square, surrounded by her incredible art collection.

Eaton Square sitting room 2, 13 Aug 1997

A small part of Aunt Nancy’s collection at Eaton Square

Nancy was Mum’s elder sister.  Unlike Mum she never married or had a family, but she lived an extremely fulfilled and generous life.  I wish that I had got to know her better in her lifetime.  Nancy was a journalist who, in later life, became deeply involved in contemporary arts.  She had obituaries in The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent and The Economist, from which I learnt a great deal about her.

She was born in San Francisco and the family soon moved to England.  She was educated at Wycombe Abbey and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford where she took a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.  During the war she worked in Oxford under Arnold Toynbee in the Foreign Office research department and then for the BBC North American Service before being offered a job on The Economist‘s American Survey.

Aunt NancyThe survey had started soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and was part of The Economist‘s pro-American stance.  Nancy, with her mid-west and west coast connections, ensured that it embraced the whole continent.

The Economist records how ‘in Nancy Balfour’s day, American Survey was run on almost military lines, with strict discipline, frugal use of resources and a firm determination to maintain its independence from the rest of the paper. Corres-pondents did as they were bidden, filing their copy by air-mail letter or, in later years, by telex.  Transatlantic telephone calls were limited to one a year.  Facts that could not be confirmed in London were excised.’  The obituary says that she was a transatlantic bridge-builder who prepared the way to the expansion of The Economist‘s circulation in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s.  The Times noted that she was ‘known as “Colonel” Balfour for her uncompromising and sometimes inflexible approach’.  She was at odds with The Economist in her critical stance on the Vietnam war.

I recall how she was never free on a Thursday evening because she had to see the paper ‘off the stone’.

Nancy retired at 60 in 1977 and became treasurer then chairman of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS).  It was founded in 1910 by the Bloomsbury artist and critic Roger Fry, Lady Ottoline Morrell and others to buy contemporary art for presentation to public museums and galleries.

Eaton Square entrance 13 Aug 1997


Nancy had been buying art since just after the war and made a point of supporting living artists and visiting their studios. She left many of her works to the CAS for distribution to galleries and museums where they would be displayed. The CAS made part of her collection into a touring exhibition, and a year after her death The Economist displayed the works, had a party and published a booklet about her, written by then director of the CAS, Gill Hedley.  Here Nancy is quoted:  ‘I have never bought anything by a dead artist, apart from a few antiquities, nor have I ever bid at an auction’. She bought works because she liked them, not as an investment.  Her first purchase was the maquette for the Northampton Madonna by Henry Moore, in 1943 the year it was made.

Her flat was full of her acquisitions.  The booklet says ‘There was a sort of hierarchy of display within her home in Belgravia where major works were shown in the drawing room and dining room in particular, the corridor was a miniature gallery of very assorted works and the bedroom reserved for more reflective works, often blue in tone.

Eaton Square sitting room 1, 13 Aug 1997

Sculpture to hand in the drawing room

‘Sculpture was literally to hand in the drawing room.  ” I congratulate people who are prepared to live with unpleasant paintings just because they admire them. … I want to relax with my art, sometimes to be amused by it and not to have it attacking me”.’

Eaton Square hallway RHS 13 Aug 1997

The corridor, a miniature gallery

Her collection included works by Lynn Chadwick, Barbara Hepworth, Ivon Hitchens, John Hoyland, Victor Passmore and Bridget Riley, to name a very few.

Nancy was extremely generous and she was devoted to helping young artists and raising money to enable them to have space in which to work.  Gill Hedley observed ‘Her diminutive figure was often seen leading a troupe (sic) of collectors to parts of London that they had never previously reached’.  For her seventieth birthday, artists whom she had supported and befriended produced a book of original drawings.  For her eightieth, her friends raised £7,000 in her honour so that the Tate Gallery could buy a wall sculpture On the Day by Alison Wilding.

She was a tireless committee member and also a keen traveller, wearing out her companions as she tramped the pavements to visit every church, archaeological remains and art gallery, or rode on an elephant.

Aunt Nancy and elephant 1968

Elephant ride, 1968, Nancy on the left

Art critic Marina Vaizey wrote in the Independent: ‘She accomplished her self-imposed mission [at the CAS] with persistent energy, taking everyone to task. … Her nickname, partly due to her short stature and her habit of taking verbal nips at her colleagues and associates, was “Gnasher”.

‘Spirited, cantankerous, Nancy Balfour was a bridge between private and public support of both the contemporary fine and applied arts.  Dedicated to the most practical manifestations of private support, she was a missionary, encouraging The Economist itself to build an art collection … and she was a tenacious supporter of public art partly through her work for the Public Art Development Trust (as trustee, 1983-91)’.

I also learnt from Marina that ‘her mother held strong views as to dress, and the young Nancy wore socks of a different colour to those of all the other girls in her school.  This early branding may explain the impulse behind her commitment to what was once the unfashionable side of the art world’.  Mum doesn’t remember the socks.

Nancy visited us at Wrango regularly and she often invited my sister Sue and me to spend weekends with her in London.  That was quite an undertaking for her since she had little contact with children.  Sensibly she had us to stay separately as, with an age gap of four and a half years, we had different interests.  She gave us a wonderful time.

Aunt Nancy with S c1954

Nancy with Sue and Elmer in about 1954

Aunt Nancy with K c1957

Nancy with me in about 1957









She was not an early riser on a Sunday morning, so would furnish us with Baba the Elephant books to keep us occupied, and then take us out to see the sights of London and go to a show.  On one occasion she took me on a tour of the house of lords after I had eaten strawberries for lunch and I brought it all up on the steps of the throne.  She coped with that calmly and efficiently—as she coped with everything.

She would have been particularly proud of her elder great-nephew, Ben Casselman, who has just landed a job as Business Day reporter for the New York Times.

Posted in Art, Memories, Obituary, USA | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Barbara was always there

On Barbara MacDonald’s birthday, 28 August, each year, I like to remember her. She was a special friend, a feisty fighter with flaming red hair, the kindest heart, a great sense of humour and a most forthright manner. She died in 2002, aged 90, and she is not forgotten.  You can read about her here

When it came to a Dartmoor battle, she was always there.  She appeared at countless public inquiries, presenting forceful, lucid evidence.  I saw her function at the Sharp inquiry into military training in 1975, the Roadford reservoir inquiry in 1978 and the Okehampton bypass inquiry in 1979, to name a few of the big ones, but she was active long before I came on the scene, fighting the Meldon reservoir, china clay expansion and much else.

web Bar MacD

Barbara MacDonald

The first inquiry we did together was the 1975 public inquiry, when Baroness Sharp presided over what proved to be a farcical investigation into military training in the Dartmoor National Park.  I still have Bar’s proof of evidence, submitted as an individual as she was no longer an officer of the Dartmoor livestock Protection Society (which she founded in 1963).  Unlike the rest of the objectors she focused on the agricultural aspect of military training on Dartmoor, using different and useful arguments.

Cattle on Bridestowe Common

Cattle on Bridestowe Common

Bar was a farmer, having moved to Sanduck, near Lustleigh, in 1951 where her farming included dairy, sheep, pigs, beef cows with single-sucked calves and poultry.

Her evidence was that, while most of Dartmoor was overstocked, the military-training lands were under-grazed (much more of Dartmoor is under-grazed now); the frequent disturbance of livestock, which had to be moved in and out of the training areas for firing, was detrimental to their welfare (Dartmoor sheep are leered to a particular area); and the noise of heavy artillery and aircraft, and the frequent parachute flares, were stressful to animals.   It was also shocking that the taxpayer should fund military training itself, the subsidies to hill farmers, and the compensation to commoners for loss of food production due to that military training.

She concluded: I submit that there is no case for the continued use of any part of Dartmoor by the Armed Services for any other than adventure and fitness/survival training and that Dartmoor’s value as a hill-farming area and as an essential haven from modern noise and pollution is at risk.  Never more so than now must we preserve our wild areas in peace and quiet, if we wish our descendants to inherit a country worth defending.

There are appendices with more evidence.  It was a powerful exposition.

But we all knew it was a foregone conclusion, that the military would continue to batter Dartmoor and the inquiry would not put an end to it.  Indeed, with typical directness, Bar told Baroness Sharp that ‘the inquiry report could easily have been written without any need for the inquiry’.  Baroness Sharp was angry, but in many respects Bar was spot on—as she so often was.

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White Cliffs Festival launched at Walmer

Julius Caesar possibly first landed in Britain at Walmer in 55 BCE.  Nelson possibly sat at the viewpoint now known as Nelson’s Seat above Walmer to survey his fleet in Sandwich Bay. But the fourth White Cliffs Walking Festival was definitely launched on Walmer Green, just south of Deal in Kent, on 24 August.

I was delighted that I had been invited once again to open the festival, having launched the first one in 2014 on Dover seafront.  The festival alternates between Dover and Deal; both are Walkers Are Welcome towns, Dover having joined the family last year.  This year’s festival runs until 30 August.

2 speakers

Right to left: Nick Tomaszewski, Charlie Elphicke, Margaret Lubbock and me

Margaret Lubbock, chairman of the White Cliffs Ramblers’ group which organises the festival, led the brief proceedings.  Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke spoke in support of public paths and against their abuse by 4x4s.  He mentioned that morning’s news-story: Public Health England was urging middle-aged people to walk for at least 10 minutes a day—a timely announcement for us.  The deputy mayor of Deal, Nick Tomaszewski, spoke of the benefits of the Walkers Are Welcome town.

3 banner

I said that the festival had put Kent firmly on the walkers’ map, it is a great celebration of all that Kent has to offer.  We can now enjoy the new coastal path and adjoining access land which have been opened between Camber and Ramsgate, with more soon to follow. By the end of 2020 we should be able to walk right around England’s coast.

Robert Peel and Peter Smith of Kent Ramblers have written an excellent guide to the Camber to Ramsgate section of the coast path to help us on our way.*


Dover and Deal are both Walkers Are Welcome towns, in part encouraged by the festival on their doorsteps.  These towns attract walkers because of their excellent facilities and splendid surroundings, and their local economies are boosted accordingly.

The walking festival is growing rapidly, this year there were about 1,000 people signed up for the 42 walks.  The festival enables the Ramblers to show off their victories—paths saved and access won, and some of their frustrations with local authority funding cuts and threats of development.  Walkers through the week will see a range of issues and will enjoy some of the best countryside in Britain.

4 setting off

Setting off along Walmer seafront

It is thanks to the tireless work of Ramblers’ volunteers that so much has been achieved. I urged all present to support the Ramblers if they did not already do so, because we should not take our access for granted.

1 launch

The festival is open

After I had declared the festival open, we set off on walks of different lengths.  I shall write about this in another blog.

*The book is only £5.00 if you mention CampaignerKate’s blog when you order it from Kent Ramblers, 15 Woodland Way, Petts Wood, Orpington BR5 1NB.

Posted in Access, campaigns, Coastal access, Public paths, Ramblers, Walkers Are Welcome Towns, walking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments