Sting in the trail

The apparent usefulness of rail-side path into Port Meadow is entirely negated by the council’s decision to close it after seven p.m. This is enforced by two locks: a Yale lock that can be pushed open until evening, whereupon an electrical catch clicks shut; and an electromagnet fitting that clamps onto a slab of metal should the former fail to engage. Jericho is now inaccessible at any time that I might want to go to a pub or a shop there: I have to go the long way round and might as well go elsewhere altogether.

Why they’ve decided to do this isn’t at all clear. Port Meadow, dark though it is, is not particularly dangerous, certainly not if they ever finish the resurfacing and get a decent route out and onto the bridge into Jericho. An explanation might be found by contemplating the psychology of councils and other municipal institutions (I include one-time British Rail in this category, as old habits die hard): never give, unless you can also retain control.

But the whole extent of the path alongside railway tracks is still accessible—the tracks are fenced off anyway, which makes such speculation moot. Certainly the Port Meadow path is a lot safer than the gamble under Botley Road bridge or cycling along the entirely unlit river. I note in passing that it’s also possible to nip over the barbed-wire gate into the allotments—remember, kids: it’s only trespassing if you cause damage and they catch you at it—and then over chickenwire into the “landscaped” field through which the path snakes, but I don’t fancy doing that. More than a couple of times, anyway.

Of course, the scheme won’t last. The gate has been propped open with a tyre all week; the metal slab is held on by an Allen bolt, and the Yale lock with Phillips screws. But why do we have to yield to this in the first place? And, like spiteful parents, will the council just lock the gate for good

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