If there's been one good thing to come out of exercising during this long-winded lockdown we've endured here in North Wales, it has been the discovery of all the little public footpaths we have around us.
It really doesn't matter if we are running on them or walking, on the bridleways it is the same on a bike or on a horse; getting off the tarmac and in amongst the green is restorative in a way that can't be replicated on the roads.
Some of those off road routes have other bonuses too; for example some of the trails I've discovered, if I knit them together just right, mean I can walk or run from my house to my son's (6 or 7 miles away by car) barely touching on any tarmac at all.
I have been getting out and about a bit, slowly rebuilding mileage as I try to rebuild strength in my achilles. I have really come to appreciate and enjoy some of these short trails we have within touching distance of our front door.
But something changed last week.
I went out for a run after work on Friday and found myself angry when I got home; one of the public footpaths we've been using for runs and walks was inaccessible - barred by the actions of somebody who has taken it upon themselves to fasten a big padlock to the kissing gate.
Within 10 minutes of this discovery, I found another footpath blocked, only this time the landowner has decided to block it by felling about 20 - 30 trees across it, and leaving them lying across the path.
(Not a stock photo, this is part of the now inaccessible path)
I went for a longer run on Sunday, and again, I did not come home with any sense of satisfaction brought about from a job well done. The issue now is with dogs, aggressive dogs. Up to now they have been securely shut behind gates, now, all of a sudden, at 2 different houses, the dogs are loose, barring the way of anyone who wants to use the public footpaths that pass closely by these houses.
(Would you carry on past? Would you feel safe? Stock photo for effect, but please feel free to discuss how we're supposed to exercise our right to self defence against that or why you are less important than a sheep?)
Why, all of a sudden, does it feel like we're being barred from using our countryside to exercise in a way our government has been encouraging us to do?
And then I realised....
The only thing that has changed is the imminent introduction of the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Could it be that the real world effect of this bill is to make those who wish they could do whatever they want with the public footpaths that cross their land, feel like they can now act with impunity?
It certainly looks that way to me.
However well (or otherwise) intentioned the meaning of this piece of legislation is, what has been talked about in the media is that our right to protest has been removed, and trespass has been criminalised.
I would bet my bottom dollar that all 4 of those obstructions I've encountered over my last 2 runs all boil down to the same thing - the people in those houses have all shared the exact same thought....
"They shouldn't be on our land, that footpath is nothing but a nuisance. Well, I'll stop 'em, I'll stop 'em right now, and there's nothing they can do about it."
Let us not forget...
Thank you Tories for our return ticket (via HS2 and a Cumbria coal mine 🤔?) back to square one.
It seems the law changes that followed on from the Kinder Trespass (albeit not till after the war) , access to our National Parks and our right to roam our beautiful countryside, are being stolen away from us.
There are always unintended consequences in everything we do. They are worse when things are dealt with in a rush.
Or perhaps the swing towards favouring the rights of landowners over and above the rights of the public wishing to use their footpaths wasn't any accident at all?
Slowly but surely, that gap between rich and poor keeps growing. More of us are pushed towards poverty. More of the money sits in fewer and fewer hands. Distribution of wealth is on par right now with the early 1930's.
We all learned in school what happened in the '30's right? Is that piece of history one we want to see repeating?
If you're in the club I guess you're fine, but how many of us, really, are anything more than just a member of the public wishing to use a public path?
I shouldn't be having to talk about politics here, I should be able to just enjoy the fact that I am able to run, enjoy that I can do it in a relatively nice place despite living in a weed infested slum, but the truth is these things sucked all the enjoyment out of running.
Why, when the focus should be on protecting the NHS, was it so important to rush through a piece of legislation whose sole purpose is to chip away at our freedoms?
They stand behind their lecterns instructing us to "protect the NHS", yet will not pay the nurses what they promised them (unwise I think, when the population at large sits on their arses all day long ordering takeouts from just eats - no home cooking - just cooking up a storm for our NHS to deal with over years to come).
Why, when the focus should be on everybody's safe return to education and to work, was it so important to remove our abilities to protest?
It really makes me wonder what's coming next?
It seems inevitable it will be something we're going to be upset about - otherwise that Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill wouldn't matter to them right now.
Yes they should have worn their masks. Yes they should have social distanced. Yes the power of their message will be weakened by the fact that they did not. But I ask you, in your judgement of them, to pause and ask yourself this question: "Would they have been there marching at all if YOUR freedom was not under attack?"
"I ran 9 miles... blah blah blah..." seems trivial and self indulgent against the backdrop of all that, but I'd like to be talking about the joys of running, I really would.
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