Hart of the Matter
It’s that time of year again when you could live off the countryside if you were so disposed, by picking all the blackberries, crab apples, hips and haws, sloes, hazel nuts, etc which grow in our hedgerows, and particularly this year, which has seen such a bumper harvest of virtually everything.
But the job is getting more difficult. Some regular readers of this column may remember a few years ago how I and my wife (well, it was mainly her, of course) had a run-in with an arrogant chap from the Thurlow estate because we were picking what he termed ‘berries’ without permission.
As my wife stridently pointed out, those of us brought up in the country have always picked from the hedgerows beside rights of way, whether roads or footpaths, without ever having to ask permission of anyone.
Farmers nowadays often tend to slash the hedgerows at just the wrong time of year from the point of view of us harvesters – and, no doubt, the birds and animals as well – leaving a neat and tidy, but unproductive, result.
Thank goodness, then, for Cambridgeshire County Council who, I believe, maintain the Roman Road, and do not feel it necessary to carry out any such work.
So last week found us out with our little bags, walking in the footsteps of 2,000 years of our predecessors and carrying out this historic function. This year there are (or were) miles and miles of available produce so there’s plenty for all without depriving the wildlife.
And it’s only an extra activity to add to what is a splendid walk anyway, even if there were nothing to pick. I stood at one of the higher points on the Roman rollercoaster and surveyed the grand East Anglian scene of fields, hedgerows and woodland, like a tapestry under the afternoon sun and thought to myself: “I know what we need! A whacking great dual carriageway across this would improve the view no end.”
Well, I didn’t, of course. This is one of the best parts of Cambridgeshire, which has an unearned reputation as a boring county for walkers and countryside-lovers because most of it is a bit on the flat side. This bit, from the Gogs to Horseheath, is not, and the Roman Road is a magnificent way to see it.
A few weeks earlier I had been walking along the bridleway from Horseheath to Bartlow, and at one point you become aware of the sound of traffic where you can see the distant A1307 dual carriageway from Bartlow crossroads up the hill towards Linton.
That can still be a bit of an eyesore with 30 years of landscape growing up around it to blend it in. I suppose it, along with the old Linton bypass, which cuts across the village’s picturesque meadows, will become redundant if this campaign for a new dual carriageway A1307 from Haverhill to Four Wentways, passing north of Linton, succeeds.
They will be relegated to over-engineered distributor roads, but I can’t see anyone allowing them to grow over and go back to natural countryside as has happened with A3 at the Devil’s Punchbowl near Hindhead.
Of course, one can see the problem for the campaigners. As it stands the A1307 is almost impossible to dual, because there are places, like the top of Linton, where there just isn’t enough room between the houses.
Nevertheless I would have thought it would be cheaper to build the necessary sweep out to the south of the village, around the zoo, and then add to the current dualled sections, than to cut a new, straight swathe through the landscape.
And it will be straight, the campaigners say, because it will be a lot shorter and therefore quicker for business and all its juggernauts. Rather than this scar on the scenery, give me a wind-farm any day.
Nobody seems to care what happens to the traffic when it gets to Four Went Ways, except, perhaps, Cambridgeshire County Council, whose problem it will be to deal with the percentage which debouches towards Cambridge – not a small amount, one would imagine.
And even if they build their outer city ring road, with its massively expensive tunnel through the Gogs, there is still some distance to be travelled from Abington to get to that.
But as long as the lorries can get onto the country’s main arterial road system quickly and easily, that is all that matters. The average commuter or shopper comes much further down the list.
If the Government had been minded to build such a road at any stage, one would think it might have got into their programme, however distant, but it didn’t.
One can debate endlessly why we have got into this situation and whose fault it is – Essex County Council of the 1960s and 70s must bear a lot of the blame for refusing to consider extending the old A604 on from Haverhill to Colchester. Instead they downgraded it, and eventually the ‘road to nowhere’ as the much-improved Cambridgeshire half became, lost its major road status.
It is not impossible that similar bureaucratic disasters may bedevil any new road which is built, because we are talking about different counties again.
But if, by any extraordinary twist of fate, this road does go ahead, it would be best if it could have slip-road distributors to the villages along it, like the ones you see on Scottish road signs. After all, most people in those villages will be wanting to get onto the new road more often than not.
And then, perhaps, the old road could be reduced to a country lane again – or even better, some parts of it could be used as the bed for a railway which, even if it was an unlikely double track, would be a lot smaller and less intrusive than the parallel road and which might actually be of some use to the residents of Haverhill.