It may be a cliché, but my (belated) fiftieth birthday party, ten years ago on 16 July 2005, was a perfect day.
My friend Marion Saunders had offered to host it at Hillbridge Farm, near Peter Tavy on western Dartmoor. I had known and loved the farm for the past 40 years. There could be no better location.
I was up at 6.30. I was sleeping on the floor of the conservatory as the house was full and it was like camping without the discomfort. The sun was already pouring in and I ran down to the river for a swim, icy cold at that time of day with the mist still rising from the water. On my way back I met Hazel Perham, who had slept in her car in the front field, heading out in search of breakfast.
With invaluable help from many friends we spent the morning getting everything ready, moving ponies up the farm so they were out of the way, arranging strawbales as seats and setting up tables and barbeques.
People began arriving from about 1 pm for the walk at 2 pm. Others, who were not walking, came later. I was pleased to have at least one representative from each stage of my education: prep school, boarding school and university, and many whom I had met through my work with the Ramblers throughout the country.
Richard Lloyd Jones from Cardiff had asked if he could ‘bring a friend’. When he arrived I found that the friend was Helen Yewlett whom I knew from the Countryside Council for Wales board, and that they were engaged. It was a great start to the party!
After I had given a little introductory talk, we set off down the front drive, over the Hill Bridge and up through the fields known as ‘Coffins’, giving David Palmer’s South Devon bull a wide berth. Fortunately, he was happily occupied with his cows.
We continued up through Wapsworthy and stopped at the Moor Gate for everyone to catch up.
Then we began the long slow climb up White Tor where again we had a stop, to enjoy the incomparable view, from Bodmin Moor round to Tavy Cleave.
We continued towards Stephen’s Grave and along the track to the bridleway above Twist.
We reached the lane at Cudlipptown and went down through the fields to Horndon Clam, and back along the River Tavy, walking upstream. Little did I know that, six years later, I would be buying the land through which we walked, Common Wood.
When we came to the swimming pool, where I had swum that morning, people swam and sat on the sunbaked rocks.
Then it was back to the farm for tea and drinks, and an excellent barbeque and to greet many more friends who had not walked with us.
Marion had made me a cake with a wire fence around it and supplied wire-cutters to cut my way in, symbolic of some of my past exploits with blocked paths! And of course I made a speech. It was a chance to thank everyone, especially Marion, and to remember Dee Ivey who had owned Hillbridge for many years but, sadly, had died two years earlier. She would have been thrilled to see Hillbridge being enjoyed by so many.
Some people camped on the farm, and we sat up late in the garden, chatting under the stars.
I was so fortunate to be able to hold my party at Hillbridge, in wonderful weather, with more than 70 of my friends. A day to remember.