Real life

We don’t have lockdown in Surrey

25 April 2020

9:00 AM

25 April 2020

9:00 AM

The man was unloading cycles from the boot of his car just as I was about to take the turning for my house. It was the last straw. In the space of a mile and a half drive from field to home, I had passed 79 cyclists.

I photographed each swarm as it approached me, pulling over to use the camera on my phone, before anyone accuses me of dangerous driving.

At the entrance to the cricket club, a group of three men and a woman in Lycra were standing shoulder to shoulder, bikes propped idle, having a good old chinwag. I pulled up next to them and snapped them through my window. The woman put her hand on her hip and pushed her lips out in a stubborn pout as if to say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

We don’t have a lockdown in Surrey. The lanes are teaming seven days a week, dawn till dusk, with hundreds upon hundreds of cyclists and mountain bikers who are driving here every day to take their exercise.

They unload their bikes in the lanes and bridle paths, then pedal around for hours. As all the cafés and snack kiosks are shut, they relieve themselves by the side of the road or in our fields.

They often tell us that we are in their way. One man instructed the builder boyfriend to move away from him and his family as they pedalled on the private track between his fields while he was trying to see to his horses.

It sparked something of a debate on Facebook when I posted pictures of the 79 cyclists in the lane because some commenters appeared to be under the impression that driving your bike to a location many miles from your home was legitimate.

If so, it’s a strange strategy, emptying towns and cities into villages. Perhaps I should drive to London to take my exercise? I can’t do it here. I look out on the village green from my bedroom window and the marauding masses unloading themselves from people carriers make me feel like going back to bed.

I drive to my field where there are so many walkers on the footpaths I have to keep checking to make sure they are not leaving gates open or feeding bread rolls to my horses, which I have them on camera doing.

And while everyone else is having a fine old time jogging and cycling past my field to the lovely heathland at the end of the bridleway, I can’t get on my horse and exercise her and me because it would be a suicide mission.

I’ve taken her out once, as she was getting pretty sharp, and I was worried that if I didn’t do it soon I might never be able to get on her again.

But it wasn’t worth it. The bikes hurtled past at breakneck speed — my neck being the one that would be breaking if the terrified spinning horse had unseated me.

The irony is the British Horse Society has put out guidance saying that while the government has not said anything about horse-riding, because it is a risk activity (yeah, because of the cyclists), ‘our strong advice is that it is not appropriate to put unnecessary pressure on the emergency services now or for the foreseeable future.’

The line from Cycling UK is that ‘it remains advisable for people to cycle for their health, fitness and well-being, but you should only do this alone or with members of your household. Under no circumstance should you cycle in groups.’ Yes, but every cyclist I saw on that lane was in a group.

And no one is policing this. We have not seen a single officer asking day-trippers what they are doing parking heaps of bikes outside village shops and buying refreshments so they can picnic.

Perhaps what Cycling UK should do is try to claim that the rules allow one incidence per day of putting your bikes in your cars and driving to some poor village already swarming with visitors, because at least that would be the truth of what’s happening.

Oh, so the man unloading his bikes opposite the turning to my house? Well, I pulled over and photographed him, whereupon he gave me a sarcastic salute. I get it, I thought. I’m not the lockdown police. I don’t want to be. And as his boot lid was up I didn’t get his registration.

But after pulling up outside my house still seething, I decided to walk back and look again. When I got there, he was gone. He had loaded his bikes back into his car and scarpered.

My interpretation of that is that these people know full well that what they are doing is horribly disingenuous.

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