Today, 24 April 2015, marks two fiftieth anniversaries. On 24 April 1965, while the Pennine Way was being opened on Malham Moor, attended by Fred Willey, Minister of Land and Natural Resources, I (oblivious of this event) was heading to Hillbridge Farm on western Dartmoor for the first of many riding holidays there.
For me that day was tremendously significant, my introduction to Dartmoor and subsequently a career in campaigning (when, a few years later, I realised that Dartmoor needed to be fought for). It’s a nice coincidence that such an important Ramblers’ event was taking place on that very day.
It was pure chance that I found my way to Hillbridge. A ten-year-old, I overheard my schoolfriend Claire Forrester tell another friend that she was going on a riding holiday at easter. Precociously I asked ‘Can I come too?’ and amazingly I did. We travelled as a foursome with Claire’s two friends Jane Steyning and Pat Bailey to Exeter. There we changed onto the train which for a few more years was to chug round the top of the moor to Tavistock. Alan Elrington, who worked for Dee Ivey who owned Hillbridge and ran the riding holidays, met us in an old green van to take us the last few miles up the Tavy valley.
And that was the start of everything for me. Hillbridge was pure heaven, we could run free through the fields, over the moor and by the river, and spend hours with ponies which was ideal for a pony-mad child. I would count the days to the next holiday. Dee brought us so much happiness, we loved and admired (and slightly feared) her—for her horsemanship and horse management were of tremendously high standard. She taught us so much.
Dee died in 2002 but the farm lives on, now owned by my dear friend Marion Saunders who worked for Dee for more than 30 years, helped by the indefatigable Karla McKechnie. The riding holidays ended many years ago but there are still horses and ponies at Hillbridge, and a small herd of cattle. It remains a happy, peaceful place, summed up in a 1971 poem by the late Daphne Trevor-Williams who used to stay at the farm:
How much I love that name and all it means to me—
The shadows of the clouds on sunlit moors,
The peace, the light and shades of evening hours;
The cry of curlew and the soaring lark;
The ponies roaming free, the hillside dark;
The sound of running water over stones;
The peace and solitude of this great place.
Within the house and bound’ries of the farm
A feeling of oneness and a sense of fun;
The sound of good clean laughter ever free,
Friendship, kind hearts, the agelessness of me!
And over all
A sense of peace.
And now I own the lovely Common Wood, only half a mile down the valley from Hillbridge.
Just as the Pennine Way has changed many people’s lives for the better, I know that Hillbridge has changed mine. Thank you to Dee, Marion, Karla and all my Hillbridge friends (two-legged and four) over the last 50 years.