Ken Walpole – Mireman. A Personal Tribute
I was very saddened to hear of the death of my old friend Ken Walpole, with whom I shared many memorable walks in Devon and, in particular, on Dartmoor.
Ken gained his nickname Mireman, for his talent for always managing to incorporate a Dartmoor bog into so many of his walks. He found the bogs, mires and marshes of high Dartmoor utterly fascinating – as I used to myself.
Ken was an early member of the Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers, a walks leader of great reputation for many years, and an excellent teacher of navigational skills for hillwalking tyros. I well remember one very early navigation class that he and I did together, starting from Saddle Tor in the thickest of mists. Our students were, I recall, rather perturbed at the complete lack of visibility, but Ken maintained that these were ideal conditions to teach someone to use a map and compass. He was right!
He produced and home-published a superb little booklet on navigation, as well as books of Dartmoor walks and moorland folklore. I do hope that these might be brought back into print, by his old rambling group. They were most valuable.
I always enjoyed Ken’s walks, and recce’d a number with him. He was always fascinating to talk to. He’d had a most interesting life, including time spent in the Home Guard in the dark days of World War Two.
Apart from Dartmoor, Ken had a great interest in Exmoor. Many years ago, and for various groups, I had led a long walk on Exmoor, exploring the locations mentioned in R.D. Blackmore’s classic novel Lorna Doone, in which we sought out the real Doone Valley (Lank Combe). Ken loved the walk and took over leading it in latter years, writing it up and publishing an account. We were both rather annoyed that the Exmoor tourist industry paraded the wrong location as the Doone Valley. Ken helped to dispel the error.
Perhaps his old group would care to do the walk again in his honour. I would be happy to provide the route details.
I have a wonderful memory of Ken on a walk I led to Cranmere Pool from Fernworthy, walking head into a gale-force wind that was so fierce that we had to bend over to make any progress against it. Some members of the party were doubtful about continuing, but Ken kept up their morale. We crouched down at Hangingstone Hill and then at Cranmere, to get out of its blast. It was certainly a walk that stayed in the memory. I wrote it up as an article in The Countryman and presented Ken with a copy as a memento of our wild day on Dartmoor. I re-wrote a slightly different version in my book Wayfarer’s Dole. I could still feel the power of that gale when writing it, and hear Ken’s encouraging words to the doubters.
Ken was a great champion of the access to the countryside campaign and the preservation of Dartmoor, and wrote several excellent letters of support to the newspapers when I was chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association. Such support was thin on the ground at the time and I always appreciated Ken’s compelling words.
I’ve known a great many ramblers and walks leaders over the years.
Ken Walpole – Mireman – was one of the best of ramblers and gentlemen. His friends will miss him.