Forty years ago, Friday 13 June 1975 was a day of contrasts.
It started in the most idyllic way. I was camping on High House Waste, land rescued from afforestation by the Dartmoor Preservation Association in the 1960s. I was with my two friends from Exeter University, Drusilla Bates and Mary Fung. The evening before we had lugged our now old-fashioned canvas tents and food (including Mary’s chocolate cake in a tin) from East Rook Gate, over the moor to camp on the lower driftway. My diary records that I saw a glow-worm.
Friday dawned with bright sunshine. I was up early for a walk on Penn Moor with wide views and close sighting of a fox, returning at 7.30 to the two little tents where Drusilla and Mary were still asleep. But then we had quickly to pack up and leave the sunlit moor as I wanted to attend the meeting of the Dartmoor National Park Committee at County Hall, Exeter.
As usual, I sat in the public gallery with my friends Sylvia Sayer, Lis Hawkins, Barbara MacDonald and Winifred Osborne. One of the papers to the committee was headed ‘Consultation with other organisations’ and in it the Dartmoor National Park Officer complained that the meetings with the ‘Dartmoor Action Group’, consisting of representatives of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, Ramblers, Commons Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society) and Youth Hostels Association (there may have been some others) were not a good use of time. There were various allegations in the paper which we felt to be misleading and incorrect.
So when the paper began to be discussed by the committee, Syl stood up and shouted ‘We can’t be misrepresented in this way’. Probably the rest of us joined in. The chairman of the park committee, the unimpressive Sir Ronald Brockman, panicked and said that unless Syl refrained from making audible comments he would adjourn the meeting and call the police.
And so he adjourned the meeting and called the police. We were told that when the meeting resumed in the afternoon we would not be admitted. We managed during the break to have meetings with Richard Thorne, the committee solicitor (the park committee in those days was a subcommittee of Devon County Council), Vivian Lucas, chief executive of Devon County Council, and Ronnie Brockman. We did get some concessions, that the matter would be discussed between us all before any paper was put to the committee. And so we left them to get on with it.
The next day there were stories in the Western Morning News, the Times and the Daily Mail.
Lis Hawkins wrote an excellent letter which was published in the Western Morning News on 20 June. This was in defence of Syl’s action and was signed also by Barbara, Winifred and me. As I recall the Dartmoor Action Group continued to function but our relations with Ronnie Brockman never did recover.
While it had been hard to tear myself away from High House Waste, I would have hated to have missed such excitements at County Hall.