On 19 November, when Len Clark was exactly 100 years and three months old, he joined many of his friends at the National Trust’s property at Polesden Lacey, to celebrate his immense contribution to the outdoor movement.
Len has been involved with the trust for 55 years; he joined the council in 1961 as the appointee of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) and served on influential committees and encouraged the trust to buy many open-space properties.
The day began with glorious autumn colours as I walked with Anne Robinson, fellow trustee of the Campaign for National Parks, from Dorking Deepdene station, with views over the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We joined Len and members of his family at Polesden Lacey, along with a number of mostly former and mostly male employees of the National Trust and their spouses. It was lovely to see so many old friends, but it was a reminder of how male-dominated the trust was until fairly recently, before director general Fiona Reynolds introduced change. The former chairman of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA), John Gamble, was there and others from YHA, the Campaign for National Parks and the South Downs Society. I represented the Open Spaces Society as Len is one of our vice-presidents.
We walked across the park to a semi-circle of three benches, made from Bookham oak, installed as a thank-you to Len. From here there is a fine view across the valley to Tanner’s Hatch youth hostel, so dear to Len.
The middle seat has a quotation carved on it: It is good to be out on the road, and going one knows not where (John Masefield). Len has not yet chosen the quotations for the other two.
After pausing at the seats we headed down the hill to Len’s copse, five beech trees in the field in front of the youth hostel. Four of them had already been planted, and the fifth was planted by Len’s sons, Alastair and Stuart. By now it was raining, but it didn’t spoil our day.
The setting was perfect. Jamie Parsons, the trust’s area ranger who masterminded the project, had done a fine job.
We returned to the tea rooms where Len made a little speech, without any notes, recalling some stories from his times with the National Trust and YHA.
It was a day to remember and a fitting tribute to Len who has done so much for the organisations represented there and is a wonderful friend to us all. You can watch him making his speech here.