Dear West Country Voices,
I remember when we had rights of way. When I was a child there was a right of way pathway between council houses and the fields of a farm at the very edge of a county boundary, marked by a stone right on the edge of our garden and our neighbour’s. Our garden was in one county: the pasture, in another.
Kids tracked it daily, ranging round the meadows, cutting along the hedgerows in search of birds’ eggs, sticks, wildflowers, pond life, froglets, newts and freedom. Before anyone lectures me, post-war Britain was a very different time.
The path led between two houses, round part of the top edge of a cornfield and then down the hedgerow of a pasture, over a stream and up a muddy cow trail, passing a farm and leading to a country road: very much more pleasant than playing in the streets.
And in the late summer, the excitement of the combine in the vast adjacent cornfield was followed by unknown men who would appear with shotguns broken over their arms awaiting the huddled wildlife in the increasingly-shrinking corn. Then we could play hide and seek in the bales before stubble-burning, which lit up the sky for days.
In my teens, the farmer grubbed up the hedge, ploughed the pasture, turned two big fields into one enormous one, and the right of way slowly disappeared. No longer did we walk through what had become the centre of the cornfield – because you didn’t, you walked round the edge, and this field now had a perimeter so long it would take all morning to cross the hundred or two paces where the hedge had been.
I went back, years later. The ends of the council house gardens were clear, but the cornfield boundary had become one thick, impassable hedge no-one could penetrate.
If I google-earth it today, the pasture has re-emerged: but the hedgerow, no. So the right of way remains inaccessible and lost.
Common land has been disappearing for centuries.
The author asked to remain anonymous.