The frustrating thing about rights is that when you give them to people they don’t cherish and appreciate them. They turn them ungratefully upside down like a modest-sized Easter egg and shake them vigorously to try to work out if something better might be inside.
Right to roam is like this. You would think walkers would be delighted to be told they can wander across a farmer’s land, skirting fields full of sheep and horses to take a short cut to a pub, or to make a nice circular route for their Sunday ramble.
Not a bit of it. Since right to roam, walkers seem to be almost exclusively furious about footpaths. They want to know why they cannot stray off them to wander around your fields as well, letting their huge dog loose to run around chasing your horses. Perhaps they feel this makes a proper day of it.
Sunday is the worst day, especially in Surrey where white collar crime pales into insignificance beside what I call Gore-Tex collar crime. Sundays I wake up and just want to shut my eyes again and not go outside. Inevitably, I will be forced to fight a series of pitched battles with nice middle-class people in hiking gear.
On this occasion, I set off with the little lodger riding Gracie and me walking the spaniels on the lead, the builder boyfriend in tow. As we went through the five-bar gate at the top of the track, two walkers came through with a large dog that went straight into the horses’ field where it ran round and round.
‘Would you mind,’ I asked them, ‘keeping the dog on the lead or at heel, because the public footpath is the track you are on, not the field he is running around?’
They looked at me blankly, so I added the clincher. ‘Because if he goes near them, the horses will kick.’
They called the dog out of the field and kept on going, as we locked the gate and set off for the woods. Barely 30 seconds later, the alarm sounded on my car, which was parked at the bottom of the track near the barn. The builder b decided to go back. The little lodger and I carried on to the woods.
At the entrance, we came across a group of elderly people in hiking gear looking at a map. ‘Excuse me,’ said the gentleman, ‘we are trying to get to Wisley.’
‘In that case, you need to go back into the woods, turn left at the first fork and keep going to the car park where there is a crossing to Wisley. It’s a lovely walk.’
‘No, no,’ said the man, shoving his map at me, which was a satellite picture on to which he had drawn a line to denote where he wanted to walk. ‘We don’t want to go that way. We want to go this way.’ And he pointed at his line, which would have involved him scaling a 10ft-high spiked fence erected by the consortium of business people who own Wisley airfield.
‘You can’t get that way,’ I said. ‘It’s shut off.’ And I tried to explain that the airfield is privately owned. ‘How dreadful,’ said the lady.
Gracie was becoming restless and the little lodger did her best to hold her still. The dogs were straining at the leash. ‘Well, we want to walk that way,’ said the gentleman and they set off in the wrong direction.
‘Enjoy it,’ I said, meaning ‘I hope you don’t enjoy it because you’ve ruined my morning.’
And by the time the builder b caught up with us it was obvious that his morning was ruined as well. He was puce in the face. Apparently, when he got back to the car, a group of walkers had opened two inner field gates instead of using the stile and let both my friends’ horses out of their paddock on to the track.
Their dog, meanwhile, was doing a great job of chasing the horses into a blind panic. You might think that even militant right-to-roamers would be a bit embarrassed about the prospect of two horses heading for the road to cause a pile-up of death and destruction. Not really.
As the BB yelled at them to shut the gates, they yelled back a torrent of abuse. The gist of it was that they knew their rights, and they were fully entitled to open gates and let horses out of fields.
The builder b had to leap in my Volvo and park it across the track to stop the horses stampeding to the road.
‘Another idyllic day in the Surrey countryside,’ I said later, as we untacked Gracie and collapsed into a heap of despondency on a hay pallet.
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