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Eagle over Cambridge Bill Bryson receives the Guild’s flagship award

Roly Smith (L) and Bill Bryson (R) with the Golden Eagle painting by David Bellamy.

At the end of January, more than 30 OWPG members and guests gathered at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge for the presentation of the 2011 Golden Eagle Award to Bill Bryson.

Bill Bryson may not be a famous Polar explorer, but the Institute was an inspired choice of venue none the less. As well as enjoying the presentation itself, the assembled company also appreciated the chance to explore the Polar Museum; for more on this see the sidebar on the facing page.

However, the main event was the presentation of the Golden Eagle itself. In his introductory remarks, Guild Chairman Jonathan Williams noted that Bill Bryson was in distinguished company, with past winners including two knights of the realm, Sir Chris Bonington and Sir David Attenborough, as well as other luminaries such as Doug Scott and Chris Brasher, not forgetting Alan Blackshaw, remembered elsewhere in this issue.

In presenting the Awards, Guild President Roly Smith described Bill Bryson as “probably the world’s No. 1 Anglophile”. Roly noted that Bill moved to Britain in 1973 and has lived here ever since, apart from an eight-year sojourn in New Hampshire while his four children were at school. It was during that period that Bill walked most of the legendary Appalachian Trail, a journey recorded in A Walk in the Woods.

However, excellent though these and Bill’s other books are, it was not on the strength of his writing that Guild members voted for Bill in the 2011 Golden Eagle. As Roly reminded us, the award is given for distinguished or meritorious service to the outdoors. In Bill’s case, his passion for walking and the British countryside was recognised by his appointment as a commissioner for English Heritage in 2003. In 2007 he became President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). He said recently that his five years at CPRE have often felt like the busiest of his life.

Bill has been actively involved in many campaigns, including his own ‘Stop the Drop’ anti-litter and fly-tipping campaign, which has attracted the support of Keep Britain Tidy and the Local Government Association. As Roly said, “figures produced by Keep Britain Tidy last year showed the full cost of our throwaway society now stands at a shocking £858 million.”

Bill has also done much to remind us British how much we have to be proud of. He described a view over Malhamdale, where he lived for many years, as his “favourite view in the entire world”. It was coming home to this view on one occasion that he realised what he loved about Britain was – all of it. ““Every last bit of it, good and bad,” he wrote. “Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying ‘musn’t grumble’...” (Notes from a Small Island).

In his inaugural address as CPRE president, Bill wondered why we don’t make the whole of England a National Park. “In

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