19 October 2001


Does the Right to

Roam include the

right to leave gates

open and the right to

be untroubled by


Charlie Flindt


Behind Flindt Towers is the Horse Meadow, named because it was where horses were once kept. Were not daft round these parts. It has been under the plough, probably during World War II, and the ridge and furrows can still be found, especially by a mower set too low. Its long and narrow, on top of Hinton Ampner ridge. To the south can be seen the Itchen Basin, and to the north, the site of the Battle of Cheriton (1644 – when Frank short-changed a Cavalier in Ye Jollye Flowerpotse).

Along the long north edge of Horse Meadow runs a bridleway, with a gate at each end to let the horses through. Actually, the gates have gone now, and this is why.

Slaving away in the Tractor Barn (so called because thats where tractors are kept), I spotted a crocodile of cagoules making its way towards the Horse Meadow. As part of my ongoing study into the habits of the rambler, I thought Id check how they handled the gates. I surreptitiously made my way to the Cart Barn (so called because…well you can guess) next to the first gate into the meadow. The lead rambler undid the hook and lifted the gate off the latch, and went through, followed by his cheery, whistling chums. Tail gunner rambler, who could well have been Lancaster bomber vintage, swung the gate back towards the slam post, and studied the fixings. The concept of lifting the gate onto the latch and putting a hook in an eye was obviously far too much for him.

I watched in astonishment from no more than 15ft away, as he shrugged his shoulders and dropped the gate about 6in open, and resumed his hearty yomp.

He and his companions didnt get far, as I emerged to give a succinct lecture on how unfastened gates had on three occasions this summer and autumn forced us to abandon harvest and drilling to chase cattle across the Hampshire countryside. The Country Code may be unfashionable, but its still valid.

Eventually, the cagoules continued on their way, with mutterings of "bloody farmers", "wait till Right to Roam", and so on.

I cant believe Right to Roam isnt already here. Once, a footpath was a right of way based on a line drawn from any house in the village to the church. Now it seems to be any route you like between any two gates you find. This explains the continuous moaning about gates wired up: Chances are that the gate in question isnt anywhere near a footpath.

But when the woolly-hatted ones find wire on it, its out with the pliers and theres a letter to Janet Street-Porter faster than you can sing Fol-de-ree fol-de-ray.

Im also baffled about DEFRAs advice on continuing bio-security. Drive a Land Rover, wear a SCATS shirt and wellies, and you must continue washing, spraying and sterilising everything. Pop on a bobble hat, chunky boots and a clear plastic Ordinance Survey map case, and, hey presto – you can go where you like Untroubled by such a concept.

Anyway, we moved the fence in the Horse Meadow in by 15ft, so bridleway users can walk the length of the path without the trauma of using gates. One well known local walker was genuinely grateful. She was pleased that the Flindt Towers cattle (not known for being shy) now left her alone. However, another walker was furious. "Who do you think you are?" he demanded. "I used to enjoy walking all over that field. What right have you to force us to keep to a narrow path?"

I rest my case, mlud.

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