Anger in the Coombe


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With its surrounding wooded hillside it ought to be a tranquil rural idyll.
But this bosky valley has become a battleground over the rights of pedestrians and cyclists –
something which is commonplace in urban areas just moved to the countryside.
The Trust with the help of the volunteers have made a determined effort to exclude mountain bikers from entering the Coombe – it is a prohibited area with no bridleway access. So whilst the Estate gives open access to pedestrians – you can walk anywhere – cyclists and horse riders are restricted to the legal or permitted bridleways.
In an attempt to prevent mountain bike access into the valley all of the slam gates have now been converted into kissing gates – see the article “Queue at the gate”. MTB’s often ride roughshod over rights of way, ignoring and removing no-access signs and lifting cycles over gates.

When does a feeling of annoyance or disapproval turn into an act of vandalism? When an MTB has to stop and dismount! Not interested in the countryside per say, but just looking for an adrenaline rush, it was quite likely that a gate would be damaged sooner or later, as was the case last week. More work for the volunteers!

A sense of entitlement………

In earlier times when the working population had few rights, the people of Ivinghoe Aston and the few living in the lost hamlet of Wards Coombe , had rights over the common land in the Coombe – but all was not well in 1656. There was annoyance with the rabbit population which was out of control and which was damaging the grazing resources of the land.
The Bridgewaters having purchased the Estate in 1604 established  a rabbit warren in the valley, with royal consent – rabbit fur was very fashionable in the Tudor and Stuart period.
For the commoners the culling of the rabbits or conies as they were then known was not an option – punishment by imprisonment would follow – so the angry peasants took their grievance to the Lord of the Manor. They petitioned John 2nd Earl of Bridgewater to come up with a solution to protect their interests.
There was an acceptable agreement, which was to fence off the area of the out-of-bounds warren and to allow the tenants to pursue their livelihoods and catch rabbits outside of it’s boundaries. Today’s rebels could learn a thing or two from those peasants!
As part of the plan, box bushes, which were native to the area were grown in rows to create hedges to provide cover for the rabbits. Despite being coppiced over the centuries, the hedges still remain to this day. By the mid 1700’s the trade in rabbit fur was in decline, so the ever resourceful Bridgewaters took to the felling of the box trees. The timber became very desirable for printing blocks and musical instruments, and it was shipped off to the London wood turners.
There are precious few rabbits to be seen today, more’s the pity.

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