Andrew Livingston considers the UK’s freedom to roam and a misadventure involving oranges and an angry farmer for which he definitely wasn’t to blame
Last week the Labour Party U-turned on its promise to create a ‘Freedom to Roam’ over the English countryside, should they be elected. Since the Land Reform Act of 2003, there has been Freedom to Roam across the Scottish countryside and Labour planned to implement the same across England.
That was, they did … until various landowners’ groups kicked up a stink.
As it stands, there is a right to roam on only eight per cent of English land. Labour still says that they will look to increase that percentage, but without a blanket ‘freedom’ across all of the countryside.
I love walking our Dorset countryside. The sights from the top of our Iron Age forts are breathtaking. Even the view from our farm – when it’s not draped in thick fog, obviously – is incredible.
Of course, I respect the countryside code. I stick to the path, close the gates, keep dogs on leads. ‘Leave only footprints and take only memories’ and all that nonsense …
Last month I aired all of my dog’s dirty laundry, so it’s only fair that I be honest with you now. There was one occasion I did not follow the countryside code. I think it’s safe to say I really let myself down.
It was September 2005, and in my defence I was just a chubby little nine-year-old with many of life’s lessons still to learn. My transgression was not in our beautiful English countryside – it was, in fact, a Spanish error.
In the 90s, my grandfather Pops retired to Spain – our visit in 2005 was for his funeral. Obviously it was an emotional time for the whole family, especially my dad and uncle (who, it seemed to me, had to partake of a lot of fine Spanish wine and food to recover from the trauma).
A day or two after the funeral, the whole family travelled to Pops’ home in the Alicante countryside. It sat at the top of a hill and overlooked a stunning valley – to be fair, it was a view that would challenge anything Dorset had to offer!
As my parents went through Pops’ possessions, regaling us and each other with tales of their childhood, my brother Jamie and I began to get restless. And, like all restless children, we started to prat around. Thankfully, the English owners of the house saw we were beginning to irritate our parents and turned to their daughter. ‘Why don’t you take the boys outside to play?’
She was probably around 13, a similar age to my brother (please note I was the youngest and therefore most definitely NOT the ringleader. I therefore can’t be held to blame for what was to come … can I?).
It didn’t take long before the three of us grew bored with the small private courtyard – so we jumped the walls into the neighbouring fields to go and find further adventure. Being at the top of a valley, the neighbouring fields were the perfect landscape and climate for growing fruit.
It’s been 18 years … and I’m still not too sure who decided to pick the first orange.
Whoever started it, utter carnage ensued.
Up and down the rows of trees we chased each other, snatching at the fruit on the trees as we went, viciously slinging them in hopes of maiming one of the other two in the group. It was brutal. It was vicious. But, my God it was fun!
Unfortunately, where there is land, there is nearly always a landowner. Once the furiously gruff Spanish farmer in his scuffed cords and white vest had caught one of us by the ear, we knew we were done for.
As fast as we’d jumped onto his land we were dragged back across it and into the house. The three of us stood in absolute silence as the farmer raged and shouted at both the owners of the house and my family. Despite the language barrier even my nine-year-old brain knew we had messed up. Big time.
Our parents eventually laughed about it, but still to this day I shudder with fear as I pass through the fruit aisle in the supermarket.