Rights of passage

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener tries to be green and economical. Sometimes it’s not easy. So this month, the price of diesel being what it is, la famille Wildlife Gardener decided to leave the WGmobile at home, take advantage of some of the hundreds of miles of public footpath and walk to school every day instead. How smug would we be? The two-mile walk to school is no hardship. In fact it’s rather lovely. Apart from an unlovely slog up the side of an A-road, the public right of way crosses a golf course, a field of friendly animals, an ancient churchyard and a village. There’s always something interesting to see:

Smoky the Tree-Climbing Sheep

1) Smoky the Tree-Climbing Sheep

2) The 4000-year-old Tandridge Yew 3) And the Chameleon Golfers, who in seconds can change colour from pink to red to purple when they spot something on the golf course that isn’t wearing Rupert Bear trousers.

Golfing chameleon

Fiercely territorial, and with specially adapted voice-boxes, they puff up their chests and vocally challenge anything passing that dares put them off their putting. Some have even evolved a long stabbing forefinger for pointing at invaders. La famille Wildlife Gardener encountered one of these Chameleon Golfers last week on the school run walk. Obviously disgruntled by pedestrians obscuring his view of the green, he had been squeaking, ‘Fore!’ to try to get us to move out of the way. His reedy call was obscured by the happy chatter of children on the footpath and nobody heard him. Rounding the bunker, his skin had entered the first stage of the typical colour change: pink to red. ‘THIS IS A GOLF COURSE!’ he squealed. ‘And this is a public right of way,’ I responded. There followed a somewhat Jane Austenian heated exchange as I defended our right to walk on the path, pointing out his responsibility not to hit anyone on it with golf balls, and him charging me with poor parenting: ‘What are you teaching those children?’ ‘I am, Sir, teaching them not to be bullied when they have a right of way’ etc. As he entered the final, purple stage of colour change, he stomped off, muttering about reporting us to the Head Steward. Pointless, as I know the Head Steward, he walks his children to school across the golf course and defends the public footpath. Even the golf club website details the right of way, although the rest of the description may as well be written in Cantonese:

First Hole 449 Yards Par 4

Golf green

A very demanding opening hole. A drive across the public footpath falls onto a fairway which slopes to the right, punishing a slice. Keep the ball down the left from the tee – but beware the bunker to catch the hooked or pulled shot.

Eh? Not many things raise the Wildlife Gardener’s hackles, but wanabee Colin Montgomeries in rubbish jumpers and Dizzee Rascal hats pretending they own public places (they do – but then we all do) is something that does. To be fair, most of the golfers are absolutely charming, polite, and hold their shots until we pass. We just happened to encounter Mr Grumpy on a Monday morning. Perhaps he had had a bad morning on the Dow Jones, or just filled up his Mercedes SLK and looked at the receipt. We stepped over the spittle, went on our way admiring the primroses, safe in the knowledge that our little journey was leaving nothing noxious in its wake, except some raised cortisol levels.

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