A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
Borders. Boundaries. Rules and Roads. Rights of way.
So this is England. I used to live in England. And on my return I have friends to see and people to meet. Traveling with children means visiting friends is more of an imposition. There are 4 of us not two. There are mouths to feed, hands to wash, minds to occupy.
It’s a handful having a handful of kids. But sometimes less is not more, sometimes more is less. The kids like to play with us but they love to play with other kids.
We have punctuated our giant trip with a series of visits to the homes of family and friends. Fresh from Paris we arrived in Kent, in England’s south east. The “Home Counties”.
Here we are welcomed into the beautiful home of my old friends Pete and Katie. What a home it is; gardens, huge tree swings and a genuine croquet lawn. We break out the strawberries and cream and the English Sparkling wine. (Which is actually really very good. Same soil and same weather as Champagne.)
The kids go nuts. There are lots of things to do around here but what we end up doing is hanging around and going for walks. Which is a bloody wholesome thing to be doing.
England has some very weird laws. I’ve touched on the Anti-Terrorism laws before ( GT #31 ) but today I am enjoying a different type weird law. The Right of Way.
The majority of these Rights of way are ancient. Hundreds of years or much more. There are many types of path requiring different behaviours. A Footpath, a Public Bridleway (For horses or bikes), a Byway, a Permissive Path and even a Right to Roam away from the established Right of Way. Scotland goes even further; that is everyone has a right to travel by foot over almost any land but still with a few conditions.
The rights often stem from past activities; a farmer may have had the right to walk over another persons land to bring his produce to market. Perhaps the land the farmer was using was rented to him by a major landowner or a “Lord” and the only way out was across the landowners property. There are thousands of these paths. There are probably thousands of different reasons they came into being. There are also thousands of landowners that would now prefer that there was not a Right of Way over their land and indeed these landowners have regularly tried to close long-standing Rights of Way.
England being England they have a venerable institution for this sort of thing; The Ramblers. http://www.ramblers.org.uk The Ramblers are an 80 year old conservative organisation with an interesting history and a few important moments of civil disobedience, none more so than the Kinder Scout Trespass.
The paths exist. These guys protect them. They have long campaigned to have Rights of Way recognized and enshrined. In 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act required the footpaths to be recorded on definitive maps. It’s little things like this that keep peoples right to trample over a field from being trampled all over.
Long may they continue. I wish every country had something similar.
It is warming to see people standing up for the rights of the little guy, the right to roam, the right to walk, the right to migrate. That these rights are born of economic need makes me think of the so-called economic migrants. These are people that are moving across someones land, some ones country, because of a different, more grave, economic need. The very phrase “economic migrant” is used as a counter point to the true “Refugee”. The insinuation is that these “economic migrants” have less right to roam across borders. That they should stay poor in their own country. That they do not have a right to roam.
I wonder what the individual members of the Ramblers Association would say if asked about immigration issues. Bear in mind in the last General Election the Xenophobia Party (UKIP) won %12.6 of the vote. And %27.5 of the European Parliament Election before that. I do not suggest that the Ramblers would all necessarily be anti-immigration. As a single issue campaign group I commend them. But I wonder if their members see the parallels that I am speaking off.
We saw people risk their lives to cross from France to England. ( GT#32 ) That boundary is being reinforced.
The creation of a Boundary may have many reasons. The result of a Boundary is that (up to a point) you can control who and what passes that Boundary. Just like a semi-permeable cell membrane. By creating the Boundary and allowing or promoting passage of certain items it is possible to create gradients across that Boundary. By doing this Markets can be created; someone gets to profit.
How many times have you passed through a reasonably secure Border Area to find on one or both sides strange shops/stalls selling something that is not allowed on the other side. Perhaps the rules on tobacco are different across the “Membrane”. Perhaps alcohol, certain foods, guns, porn or garden gnomes.
The more Boundaries, the more ponds. The more ponds, the more “Big Fish”. The “Big Fish” tend to dominate and they tend to want to stay dominant.
I suspect the real stories behind most of the boundaries in this world are stories about the establishment and maintenance of power. People with power don’t want to share power.
Children push boundaries. Great women and men ignore boundaries. But you and I, we are supposed to respect boundaries.
I ponder this as I climb over a gate, over a boundary, and chase my children up a hill that “belongs” to someone else.