Fifty years ago today, on 9 September 1970, I was excitedly heading for Hillbridge Farm, my pony-holiday utopia, which I visited twice a year. I travelled by train, changing at Exeter for Okehampton. (I used to go all the way to Tavistock, but the line closed in 1968.) At Okehampton I was met by Marion Saunders, who was spending the summer at Hillbridge helping Dee Ivey. Dee owned and ran the farm as well as our holidays which were pure magic.
That was my first meeting with Marion, and we have been friends ever since.
That day Marion drove me to the Tavistock cattle market where, according to my diary, Dee sold her steer Ferdinand (for £92 10/-) and another bovine (£72).
Against all her expectations, Marion has remained at Hillbridge ever since that summer, and gave vital support to Dee for more than 30 years, helping with the livestock and the farmwork. She also became involved in the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society (DLPS), which rescues animals in distress on the moor. It was founded by Dee, Barbara MacDonald and others in 1963 and Marion is now its chairman.
When Dee had a stroke in 2000, Marion cared for her so that she was able to stay at home where she died in 2002. Dee left Hillbridge to Marion. While Marion has made some modernising improvements, she has retained its old character, beloved by generations of holidaying children and adults. She still keeps some horses and a small herd of cattle.
Hillbridge is one of those rocks in my life, unchanging, dependable and always there, and Marion is an integral part of it. We have had enormous fun together over the years and I have many happy memories: Marion giving me a driving lesson in her Triumph Herald around Plasterdown Camp; holidays in Wales, Scotland and the Isles of Scilly and on Exmoor; rides and walks over the moor; Marion hosting my fiftieth birthday party on the farm in 2005, and baking me a cake surrounded by fencing, to be cut with a symbolic pair of wire cutters.
And she has had a succession of heavenly dogs: Plym, Inca and now Buffy.
For the last 20 years Marion has had help on the farm from Karla McKechnie. Karla is also the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Officer, employed by the DLPS and the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, doing sterling, round-the-clock work protecting Dartmoor’s livestock.
Politically Marion and I are some way apart but, like all the best friendships, ours endures any differences of opinion. Long may it do so. Thank you, Marion!