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Rebel Without A Course

Cat James

In his book about animal behaviour, King Soloman’s Ring, Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz observed that when going about its business a shrew will take the most direct route. Once the creature is “well settled in its path-habits, it is as strictly bound to them as a railway engine to its tracks”. Perhaps this is because these tiny creatures have such a short life span that there isn’t time to fanny about taking the scenic route? I don’t know; I’m not an ethologist.

What I do know is that the Isle of Wight is chock full of scenic routes not just for tiny mammals but us big ones too; the county abounds with recreational footpaths – as this month’s Walking Festival exploited.

But, like the shrew, you might prefer to make a beeline (possibly not quite the right analogy, but you know what I mean); maybe there’s a prosaic reason to take a direct journey on foot – to the supermarket, say. Big Tesco is within walking distance of my home and so I set off, reusable carriers in hand.

It’s not a particularly pleasant walk, but better than the one a friend has to navigate to his nearest supermarket. There urban planners have made it all but impossible to visit the shop other than by road. The distance from his house is shorter when on foot, but the unlit path is so gnarly and uninviting, most shoppers feel compelled to drive. I walked it myself one evening; down steep wooden steps to a muddy track which narrowed so much in places that it was impossible not to tread in the central quagmire created by dozens of other feet, and with exposed tree roots as a bonus trip hazard. I emerged from the backside of the shop; path pinchpointed by a wheelie bin. Anyone with a buggy, trolley or mobility scooter could not have navigated this way.

At Morrison’s in Lake there’s a road directly in front of the store where cars and shoppers jostle for space, the latter distractedly manoeuvring laden trolleys. Why couldn’t the entrance to the car park be off the roundabout, leaving the wide boulevard at the front exclusively for pedestrians? And Lord knows how you reach Newport’s Asda on foot.

As I approached Tesco, I headed for the zig-zag path leading up from Brading Road. Being powered by my own legs it seemed almost spiteful that at this final stage I had to make a slightly longer journey as a conceit of the landscapers. Many other walkers have disregarded the formal crooked path and forged a straight desire-line through the ornamental shrubbery. Alas, since I last jinked by way of this cut-through, a fence has appeared, blocking the improvised path to thwart insubordinate shoppers.

But what’s that? Mischievous humans have channelled their inner shrews and trampled a fresh desire-line, snaking around the edge of the new fence. I followed suit, triumphant that people-power had won. Maybe next time I walk that way the guerilla path will be formalised, and the fence gone.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 24 May 2022 and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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