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.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, campaigns, Dartmoor, wild country and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Smiling in the rain

  1. Peter Caton says:

    Dartmoor will be forever indebted to the Sayer family. My father has told me many times of how he was sitting with Lady Sayer at Westminster on the day Swincombe was saved. and of her reaction to the decision.

    • Thanks Peter, your father was a great fighter too and formed the DPA London group to help the campaign.

      • Peter Caton says:

        He did and he still has a great knowledge of the moor. I remember meeting you at a London DPA meeting when I must have been about 11. Dad can’t get to Dartmoor very easily now but I took him to the River Teign in July – (well I drove him to the moor, then he took me and my son on the walk!) He’s having a book published on Dartmoor walks later this year.

      • That was probably in about 1973 when I went to some London Group meetings. So glad he is still getting onto the moor. Do let me know when his book is published.

  2. mattkellyski says:

    Lovely piece, Kate, and clearly a great Dartmoor day. I must pick your brains before too long for people to talk to about working with Sylvia…

  3. Gaslight Crime says:

    Great people

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