Clacking boules bring conflict to rural idyll: A country pub's petanque team has upset residents. Chris Arnot reports

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The Independent Online
THE TRADITIONAL sporting sound of an English summer is the thwack of leather on willow.

But a resident of the Hereford and Worcester hamlet of Callow Hill, near Bewdley, claims he is being disturbed by noise from a game usually associated with Gauloise- scented village squares in France. He has written to Wyre Forest District Council to complain about petanque players 'shouting and clacking their balls and groaning'.

His is one of the executive homes on a quiet, narrow lane separated from the back of the Duke William pub by high hedges and an acre of long grass, nettles and thistles.

With the help of a brewery grant, company sponsorship and a raffle or two, members of the Duke William Petanque Club raised pounds 2,000 to tame a part of this wilderness and lay down a piste - 30 metres by 15 metres of raked gravel with a floodlight and a first-aid post for anyone unlucky enough to be struck by nearly 700 grams of flying metal.

There is now a possibility that they may have to dig it up again because they had neglected to apply for planning permission.

Soon after their belated application was published in the local press, neighbours in the lane exercised their right to protest at a potential threat to their rural idyll.

One of them, Jill Lyman, said: 'Given a choice between having it or not, we are going to say no, aren't we? We can hear them laughing and shouting some nights. We came to live up here for peace and quiet. Will it stop at this or are they going to need extra car parking?'

The Hereford and Worcester County Council engineers' department has opposed the piste and recommended that the district council refuse planning permission. The Duke William, it argues, is on the main Bewdley to Leominster road and any development might increase traffic problems.

'You could knock 2p off a pint and create more traffic than we do,' said John Graham, one of the club's two qualified coaches. 'On match nights (Tuesdays) we have two cars per team, maximum.' There are, though, occasional all-day tournaments which can attract up to 70 players.

Petanque is becoming increasingly popular on this side of the Channel. Fifty clubs opened last year and there are 4,500 registered players, compared to 484,000 in France.

Ken Lindsey, captain of the Duke William club, is keen to make Callow Hill a major venue. 'This piste is capable of taking 40 teams,' he said.

Meanwhile, councillors have been circulated with a survey into Ball Clacking and Groaning commissioned by the club.

Suggested remedies include covering the boules with felt, the surrounds with rubber and the players' mouths with sticky tape.

(Photograph omitted)

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