With the whole country living through the first week of official lock down, due to the Corona virus pandemic, millions of us are practising ways to survive the consensual suspension of everyday life. Not easy. Especially if confined in cramped accommodation in town or if elderly, infirm or otherwise vulnerable. Not being able to venture out or exercise without good cause is perhaps even harder to bear. ‘Don’t fence me in’ we cry. Trying times which bring out the best and worst in us. Luckily for society at large the overall positive reaction, driven by enlightened self interest if not by morality and ethics, still prevails…For now at least.
Convivial catch ups held at the required distance with our farming neighbours over walls, on horseback or quad bike keep us in the loop on what’s happening locally and we get a sobering reminder about negative behaviour. Most Sundays at home we hear trail bikers and other off road vehicles go by and our hearts sink for these are mainly non local men out from town, heading for the nearest designated BOAT. The acronym stands for Byway Open to All Traffic, a legal loophole in access legislation which allows motorised traffic to traverse green lanes and unpaved byways. Each to their own and the greater the diversity and range of outdoor activities open to all the better but it is also obvious that the law here is being systematically exploited nationwide by small but determined groups of bikers and 4×4 drivers who willfully flout the Country Code with impunity, ruining these shared byways for walkers, cyclists and horse riders in the process. They churn up lanes and lonnens (tracks), transforming them into treacherous sloughs; displace or break down ancient boundaries; leave gates open and picnic without permission on farm land and off load rubbish in their wake to blight the landscape and endanger stock. The most publicised cases of misuse happen in our precious National Parks, like the Lake District and Peak District, while lower profile rural areas like ours on the edge of a national park are under even greater pressure by this category of ‘leisure’ user. The chances of police tackling law breakers are virtually nil so farmers and landowners remain frustrated in being unable to prevent abuse unless they take matters into their own hands; and that is a high risk strategy of last resort. Last Sunday our elderly neighbour at Southridge had finally had enough and confronted the latest posse of hard core scramblers piling on to his land up the farm lane. He boldly stood his ground, blocking progress to the track, pointing out they were flouting the government’s emergency provisions by congregating en masse and potentially leaving Corvid-19 virus on gates and footbridges. In return he was foully abused verbally and threatened physically. Our old friend held firm and, knowing they were in the wrong and could be reported to police, the trail riders reluctantly withdrew, cursing and revving engines to the max as they retreated to the regular highway. A small heroic victory in a seemingly never ending struggle. Our friend’s wife however, though relieved, was concerned the more vindictive of the riders might return under cover of darkness to set fire to the barn, vandalise equipment, or worse…
We are conscious of our great good fortune at the corner house in having a large garden plus a four acre field to occupy and exercise us as well as the minor road between valley and forest to walk or cycle along. Oddly of late there seem less delivery vans than normal plying to and from the nearby forestry hamlet. The postie still calls (and picks up) and log lorries continue their comings and goings on what must be officially classed as essential business. Down in our neighbourhood village all is quiet and superficially calm. The post office / newsagent / shop still operates while across the way the butcher sells vegetables and deli goods and has put on a delivery service. We all observe the physical distancing rules, lining up outside waiting our turn in the welcome Spring sunshine and so the conversation flows and anecdotes are exchanged. I then drive up to the valley’s largest village to drop empties at the bottle bank and extend the search to top up on essentials. The three village pubs and three cafes are all shut, as decreed by the PM on Monday. One pub though has a chalkboard outside. ‘We’re all doomed!’ it declares ‘But takeouts are available from 11am’.
The co-op food market, hardware shop, chemist, butcher, garage, baker and greengrocer are still trading, though entrance and exits are regulated. Staff at the latter business cheerfully take your order & payment at the door. Waiting in line outside the co-op (only 5 shoppers allowed in at a time) a Police 4×4 vehicle swings into the square and parks. Enforcement trouble? No, the officer simply joins the queue to get her shopping. In the hardware store one can get nearly all domestic needs plus extras like animal foodstuffs and – much to my joy – veg and flower seeds, onion/potato sets, artificial fertilisers and feeds. (Extra seasonal requirements we missed out before garden centres and nurseries were ordered to close) But, of course, this is what it’s like to live around here in the heart of England’s least populated county. An old capital settlement far enough from the big towns to retain individual non-corporate businesses that service the essential needs of a huge rural hinterland in the ‘open’ times; continuing to sustain it in the ‘closed.’
Back at the house, shopping mission accomplished, the dry stone garden walls highlight the welcome lines of bright yellow of our roadside daffodils. Lent Lillies, symbols of death and renewal, flowering profusely for all travellers, even the motorcycle mobs, to see and enjoy in their brief passing.