My fifth and final Ramblers’ AGM of the season was that of Devon Area, celebrating its 50th anniversary at the lovely Dartington Hall.
I first went to Dartington in March 1975 when my aunt, Nancy Balfour, visited me at Exeter University and I drove her to a few places. My second visit was on 28 January 1980 when I sat in warm sun eating my picnic among crocuses before visiting the record office to research the American connections of the Elmhirsts (the founders) for the Devon American Fortnight 1980, a festival I was helping Charles Owen to run. My most recent visit was in February 2012, to meet my friend Nancy Sinclair of Aune Head Arts, who had an office there. Sadly AHA wound up the following year.
So I arrived with plenty of memories of this atmospheric place. I met the walkers in the courtyard for a photo.
The walk was largely around the estate. We started by following the wall of the deer park and then entered woods
past fine Modernist buildings with a glimpse of High Cross House
and back above the river.
After lunch at the White Hart we met at the upper gatehouse.
Here the efficient secretary David Hinchcliffe gave me a personal folder containing all the papers. During the meeting I presented him with a well-earned certificate for all his hard work for the Area: he stands down next year.
The meeting was attended by about 40 people and was efficiently chaired by Andrew Chadwick.
We began with a tribute from Joan Long, Area vice-president, to Eileen Linfoot who died on 17 January aged 85. Eileen did an enormous amount of work, as Area secretary, editor of the Area newsletter, and member of the Ramblers’ general council and agenda committee. To cope with the paperwork, she and her late husband Bryan (who was Area footpath secretary) built a Ramblers’ office in their garden. Joan said that Eileen was ‘the face of Devon Ramblers for a generation’; she was also a darts champion and had a great love of dancing which was curtailed when she broke her hip in a caving accident. I learnt a lot about Eileen that day.
George Coles spoke of his work to develop the Dartmoor Way, a 100-mile walk around the Dartmoor National Park on existing rights of way, for which he has raised an astounding £75,000 in cash and kind.
The Area produces a punchy, colourful highlights report which you can download here.
Successes include a new bridge over the River Coly, west of Colyton, on a footpath which was claimed by local Ramblers. The 20-year campaign was started by Eric Mawer and then taken on by Alan and Rosemary Kimble of the East Devon Group.
The Totnes and South Devon Groups have won a bridge on the Western Wella Brook on Dartmoor, at the junction of the Two Moors Way and the Abbots Way on Dartmoor.
Teignmouth & Dawlish Group were responsible for the opening of a new permissive path in Ashcombe near Haldon Forest in memory of the late chairman of the group, Roger McCallister. North Devon Group held a winter walking festival. There were plenty of good things to report.
I gave my talk at the end, and I think they were surprised to learn that I was a member of the Devon Area committee before any of them, having been elected at the AGM in 1977. I am glad they still have the campaigning spirit.