Celebrities on the warpath over right-to-roam laws

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They arrived with dreams of green wellies and a secluded antidote to the pressures of fame. But the idyll is turning sour for Britain's rural celebrity set. In ever increasing numbers, they are on the warpath over new rural liberties which are bringing ramblers, cyclists and the plain curious within yards of their back doors.

They arrived with dreams of green wellies and a secluded antidote to the pressures of fame. But the idyll is turning sour for Britain's rural celebrity set. In ever increasing numbers, they are on the warpath over new rural liberties which are bringing ramblers, cyclists and the plain curious within yards of their back doors.

So when the Rolling Stone Keith Richards took up the cudgels this week against the countryside's right to gawp, he was only the latest in a series of famous people to take a stand against the right to roam.

Madonna and her film director husband, Guy Ritchie, are said to be furious about Countryside Agency proposals – under new right-to-roam legislation – to open up chalk downland adjoining their 1,200-acre Wiltshire estate, Ashcombe House. "They now have visions of people driving out of town to picnic at the entrance to her house, just for the chance of seeing her," said a source.

The supermodel Claudia Schiffer was no less accommodating of the rural riff-raff when she recently married Matthew Vaughn, a film producer, at their 16th-century home, Coldham Hall, at Stanningfield, near Bury St Edmunds. Perhaps egged on by Ritchie, a wedding guest, Schiffer eventually managed to get a 12-hour closure to a footpath which runs past the mansion. Suffolk council made it clear that the closure was a "one-off recommendation ... and now the path will have to remain open."

Richards had been content to allow ramblers to potter along the footpath which lies within 11 yards of Redland House, his home at West Wittering in Sussex, since 1966. But a decision to turn it into a cycle path has proved too much. He has objected and is now on a collision course with West Sussex district council. He wants the path directed away from his house to a route which would restrict some views of the surrounding countryside. The council wants it to stay put.

He will hope that this battle for access will have the same outcome as a recent one involving Gary Barlow. When the former Take That singer bought Delamere Manor in Cheshire, his people informed members of Nantwich angling club that they would no longer have access to a lake in the grounds of his home.

Barlow's agent said that intruders keen to get a glimpse of the star had been regularly escorted off his 60-acre estate. "It would be impossible for Gary to distinguish between locals wishing to fish and people whose curiosity has got the better of them," he explained.

The former Take That singer was not the first celebrity to pull up the drawbridge. The film producer David Puttnam was involved in a row with the inhabitants of the sleepy village of Little Somerford, Wiltshire, several years ago, for diverting an ancient pathway which he claimed brought tourists to within a yard of the front door. He claimed two people materialised in his living room and, after facing a village public inquiry, he won his case.

The rock singer Peter Gabriel diverted a footpath in the picturesque village of Box, near Bath, so fans would not be able to gawp at musicians using his studios there.But a long-running feud with villagers resulted in him calling police after gates and posts were sawn through. And the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was thwarted when he sought to divert a footpath in the grounds of his 18th-century Sydmonton Court home in Hampshire.Permission was refused after a public inquiry.

On current evidence, the cult of celebrity makes such footpaths a fans' must.

An employee at the Straw Hat restaurant near David and Victoria Beckham's £3.5m country pile at Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, said of the house yesterday: "Road paths border it and people are always stopping to catch a glimpse. People also go to the end of our garden to look – we border their grounds."

Sting's Lake House has also helped put Salisbury on the map. "It's a big tourist draw for us, the Japanese and Americans are very interested," said Danny Inglis at the nearby Bridge Inn.

Yesterday, the Country Landowners' Association said it was looking at the possibility of compensation claims against the Government for loss of value to private land over right-to-roam changes. "Madonna's may be the perfect case," said a spokesman.

But the Ramblers' Association said celebrity complaints were obscuring the importance of the right to roam. "There are going to be so many benefits," a spokeswoman said yesterday. "Right-to-roam is a democratisation which opens up so many areas to so many people. When [celebrities] pick up properties they know how things are changing."

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