I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Here in Cheshire it’s a bit harder to hear that lake water lapping, because most of our meres seem to have disappeared. By which I don’t mean that they have been drained or dried up through some sinister effect of global warming: They have disappeared out of public view and into private ownership!
Today I went on a mere ride. Right here in Alsager the Mere was once a public place for all to enjoy, with a footpath all the way round it. It is a beautiful small lake:
But now instead of being able to walk around it you can only take a look from two access points that look like this:
The message here is very clear: General public, keep out!
I did wonder about the footpath all round story but a quick look on the internet came up with testimony from a local resident:
I was born in Alsager in 1938 and spent all my childhood and teenage yrs swimming, fishing, boating and in winter sliding and skating on the mere. I do know that fresh water springs feed the mere, if you swim from what was Sumners (crewe rd.) to what was the boathouses (sandbatch rd.) you pass over 2 of them. the mere will silt up with fine sand brought up by the springs. the depht is almost half what it was 60 yrs ago. I hope action will one day be taken.
So what was once a well-used amenity for everybody has now been privatised to the point where we are allowed to look at the mere from behind bars, and a sign which is clearly lying, because as bodies of open water go the mere in Alsager is definitely at the safe end of the spectrum.
How on earth did the good people of Alsager allow such an obvious public good to be lost? Didn’t they care? Where they asleep? Were they bought off? Now there is not so much as a little beach left where toddlers can go for a paddle.
Perhaps we should be glad that we can still look at Alsager Mere, because a mile or so away is Lawton Mere, which it is just about impossible even to see, ringed as it is by a screen of trees:
Even taking this picture required braving the nettles. Luckily even the wealthiest private owner can’t screen the view from the heavens so with the help of Google we can all look humbly down on Lawton Mere:
Riding off full of what Conservatives would call the politics of envy, I thought about how odd it is that we allow individuals to own large tracts of the landscape. With the ever increasing gap between the super-rich and the rest, are we heading for a time when the 1% will own everything?
Here is another example from a few miles further on my bike ride. An inconspicuous driveway leads to this:
Is it churlish to resent the sheer inefficiency of our local beauty spots being unavailable to all except one family?
The sheer normality and familiarity of out property laws obscures the fact that things don’t have to be like this. How about a law that all significant landscape features should not be privately owned? Or that there should be guaranteed access to any body of water above a certain size? Access along all river banks would be a good place to start.
Not on my bikeride today was the Mere at Ellesmere, a lovely example of how things can be. Picnic areas, walks, access for all.
Perhaps one day Alsager’s Mere will be something the whole village can enjoy.