Hey, Hey, You, You, Get Off of My Land
I found a pleasant variation to one of my usual country walks during lockdown, when I noticed some people who I had been ahead of shortly before had somehow overtaken me and were trekking through an adjacent field. I strolled back to the only place where our paths could have diverged and, sure enough, there was a sizeable gap between gate and gatepost which afforded access to a farm-track and entrance to a series of three or four green fields which undulated down to the river and the moorland beyond. Peaceful, picturesque, and a shortcut, to boot, this was to be my preferred route from now on. Until the day I met the farmer, that is.
It was a glorious Saturday in early spring when I walked along what was becoming a well-trodden path and noticed the tractor which swung swiftly into view. It came to a hard halt and an ugly prop-forward who was doubling as a Somerset farmer hopped out.
“Morning!” I hailed him, cheerfully.
“The public footpath is on the other side of that ditch,” he said, pointing.
Which I felt rather lacked something as a polite reply to a sunny greeting.
“This,” he gestured, rather like a Shakespearean ham, I thought, “this here is private land.”
“Is it?” I said. “Sorry, I had no idea.”
“The footpath is over there,” he said, obviously in need of some new material.
“Got it. Sorry about that,“ I replied. “Won’t happen again.”
“Lots of people been coming down here lately,” he grumbled. “How did you get in?”
“There’s a gap in the fence back there,” I advised him. “I saw some people on the path…”
“It’s not a public footpath.”
“OK. Yes. I get it.”
“People, you say?”
“Yes. I saw people. I assumed they knew what they were doing, so I followed them.”
“Like I say,” he said, as if suspecting a conspiracy, “lots of people…”
“That’s what happens, you see, I followed those people and no doubt others have followed me. You know what you’ve got then?”
“The footpath is over there,” he said, leaving no point unlaboured.
A few silent oaths escaped my gritted teeth.
“Anarchy,” I said.
“Won’t happen again,” I assured him as I bombed off to pick up the public footpath which he kindly indicated for me.
Now, I must be honest, it did happen again. But always when I was travelling in the opposite direction, when the presence of a tractor with attendant red-faced and querulous farmer would be obvious. Although it did occur to me on occasion that he might be sans tractor and lurking in the undergrowth or at the entry point which was invisible until one was almost upon it. Which brought a certain frisson to the mild illegality of my stroll. I got away with it though. Right up until the time that I didn’t.
After a particularly long outing one Friday afternoon, I ducked into the private bit and headed, pretty tired by now, for home. I spied a gate.
A new five-bar gate. Cunningly installed with brambles all around the latch area. Quite a tall gate, too. On reflection it was maybe a seven- or even a nine-bar. Steel. With narrow gaps between the bars. Not quite what my walking boots were built for, but I certainly wasn’t going to be retracing my steps.
Next time I see the farmer, I shall mimic his sub-Shakespearean gesturing as I point out that, “These, these, sir, are not load-bearing testicles.”