On Thursday 9 March 2017, a memorial gate commemorating the life and work of Denis Holmes, a long-time Godalming and Elstead resident and Rambler, was dedicated by his widow, Mrs Susan Holmes. She said the gate was a fitting memorial to her husband, as it was ‘strong, sturdy and reliable’ like Denis himself.
The new gate is on a footpath near Elstead, and replaces a stile. The footpath runs from Fulbrook Lane to the Elstead Mill pub and restaurant, avoiding 200 metres of the busy B3001 which has no footway. The gate, made of solid oak, was installed by members of the Godalming and Haslemere Ramblers, a group which Mr Holmes helped to found in 1974 and in which he was active for over 40 years.
Denis died unexpectedly aged 81 in February 2015. His memorial service at Elstead parish church was packed, with standing room only.
At the 2pm ceremony Jenny Caddy, chairman of the Godalming and Haslemere Ramblers, opened the proceedings and introduced Pat Murphy, chairman of Elstead parish council. He spoke about Denis’s contribution to the life of the village, as a parish councillor for 16 years and council chairman for 12 years. Denis was also the leader of the local horticultural society. Finally Susan Holmes said a few words of thanks before cutting a ribbon to declare the gate officially open. In attendance were Elstead residents and a large number of Ramblers who had known Denis and walked with him over the years.
On his retirement from the Civil Service, Denis Holmes moved from Godalming to Elstead. Besides his local activities, Denis served the Ramblers more widely, becoming chairman of the Surrey Area for seven years. He also became footpath secretary for all the southern parishes of Waverley Borough. When he gave this up after 20 years, his workload was so onerous that it had to be divided among three people.
Denis’s Civil Service background gave him a strong commitment to proper procedures, and at one time he was allocating a full day a week to this post, in which his rights-of-way work was highly regarded. He actively contributed to the original way-marking of the Greensand Way in southwest Surrey and to its subsequent maintenance. He constantly supported and encouraged working parties to improve the condition of footpaths and bridleways, and spent many a day erecting finger-posts and stiles.
Mr Holmes also assisted at public inquiries. At the major Hindhead Tunnel inquiry he led a team of volunteers, resulting in a great success, with walkers gaining two extra crossings of the open stretch of the A3 trunk road. At Bramshott Denis and his team worked with the parish council to gain a convenient link between the two areas of the common split by the dual carriageway. At Thursley they celebrated the transport minister’s decision to include the Hindhead Hill underpass in the scheme, against the wishes of the Highways Agency.
The oak memorial gate was made by W.L. West & Sons of Selham, West Sussex. A plaque attached to it reads ‘In memory of Denis Holmes 1933 to 2015. Founder Member Godalming and Haslemere Ramblers. Chairman Surrey Area Ramblers for 7 years. S.W. Surrey Local Footpath Secretary for 20 years.’
The gate was installed on 19 January 2017 by the Godalming and Haslemere Ramblers’ footpath working party, led by Jim Chipchase. Helping were Roy Edgington, Brian Fellowes, David Hutton and Andy Piercey. The working party meets monthly to maintain and make improvements to local footpaths, under the guidance of Surrey County Council, continuing Denis Holmes’s valuable service for walkers in the countryside.
Prior to the ceremony, a Ramblers party of 37 people was led on a 5½ mile walk from Elstead Moat by Janet Baxter, followed by lunch at the Elstead Mill and a short walk across fields to the new gate to witness its dedication.