Bourgeois Bel and Boots go to war: In Bath they are putting on their wellies and wax jackets to save Solsbury Hill. Cal McCrystal reports

THE SWELLING protest against a dual-carriageway bypass east of Bath is remarkable for its middle-class muscle. As it gathers force beyond the Avon water meadows over which the road will run, giving the Battle of Little Solsbury the same kind of urgency and national appeal as last year's Battle of Twyford Down, two middle-class champions in particular have come to the fore: the author/journalist Bel Mooney and the poet/painter Terence ('Boots') Bantock. Admiring fellow-protesters refer to them affectionately as Bel and Boots.

On Friday, Bel, the wife of Jonathan Dimbleby, entered a circular tent on the planned route of the bypass to begin what she described as 'a solemn fast - to symbolise my despair at the starvation of spirit which allows this mania for roadbuilding to destroy the country of which I am so proud'. On the previous day, Boots, who describes himself as 'official poet of the National Trust', became a hero for persuading a local farmer not to turn his bull on the younger, grimier campaigners, and his gun on their dogs.

In Bel and Boots one detects the rage of the bourgeoisie against the Conservative Government, its agencies and (a widely shared opinion) its arrogance. 'Please stop being patronising and insensitive and show us the respect we deserve,' Bel wrote in an open letter to Robert Key, the transport minister. 'Come and visit us, Robert. I'll be a bit hungry - but I'll lay on a glass of decent wine.'

Addressing Colin Candy, a 72-year-old farmer awaiting compensation for land lost to the bypass, Boots said: 'What we middle-class people want . . .' 'I'm not middle-class,' snapped Mr Candy, a small, plump man. 'I'm lower-class. Do you know what these yobbos, these hippies, are costing the taxpayer? And their music] Thump, thump, thump, they go at night, and even on Sunday morning - God's day.'

'But they're trying to save the taxpayer pounds 75m by stopping this bypass,' Boots said patiently, adjusting his canary waistcoat. The farmer clutched his balding head. 'I want to retire. I have five children, and I want to get my finances in order, so I can take it easy. And now they say, 'Stop the road]' I could tear my hair out - if I'd any to tear out. The quicker they get it built the better, as far as I'm concerned.'

At a camp site, a handsome young man with the word 'lush' on his chest, put down his paperback and listened politely as Boots announced a truce with the farmer. 'Thank you for taking such trouble. We are relieved and grateful,' said the youth, a grandson of the late Labour peer Lord Jacobson and one of several pre-university students trying to halt the two-mile Batheaston/Swainswick bypass.

Work on the bypass, which will take at least three years to complete, began two months ago. Although no concrete has yet been laid, initial ground work - clearing and levelling - has already scarred Little Solsbury, a hill above the water meadows. It is the site of an Iron Age fort overlooking Bath, which inspired the rock singer Peter Gabriel to write a song about it. The view from the hill into this stretch of the Avon Valley is one of the loveliest in the land, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The water meadows are intersected by a barely visible railway line and a canal where locals and visitors stroll daily. In the slow-flowing Avon itself, pleasure craft purr.

Beyond, the valley's verdure hides the Warminster Road, the upgrading of which was abandoned in favour of the new bypass. As a new battleground for opponents of the national roadbuilding programme, it is a compelling choice. In preparation for the bypass, mature trees have been cut down and ancient hedges grubbed up. A vicar wept when a century-old oak fell. 'New Age travellers' have joined the Bath bourgeoisie, hurling themselves on to, and in front of, mechanical diggers, in defiance of security guards hired by the Department of Transport.

While Bel Mooney's fasting tent was being erected, Mr Bantock worried about being taken seriously: 'We are proper people,' he said; then, after a pause: 'I don't want to be called 'Boots' any more. Someone else was being called 'Fluffy'. The nicknames are getting out of hand.' He turned towards two semi-detached cottages doomed to make way for the bypass. An elderly couple occupies one of them, refusing to budge. As workmen began to knock down the other, guards eyed the protesters warily.

'I try to discourage them from being too brutal,' Mr Bantock said. 'Some are pretty well balanced, but one showed great hatred in his eyes when I talked to him. I think it's because he's fed up with people complaining about what he has been employed to do.'

He unrolled a sheet of paper: his latest watercolour, an impression of the completed bypass: a concrete monstrosity penetrating paradise to 'link Europe to Wales'. He then recited his anti-bypass poem:-

'Bath stone' stand up to concrete.

But everyone must show,

Yes, each your disapproval,

If this monster is to go.

So rise up, Middle England,

O Middle England we,

And send our Common Market freight

By rail, or 'cross the sea.

The protesters include two Bristol lawyers, two Euro-MPs, and a marchioness (of Worcester, a k a the actress Tracy Ward), currently in Spain. Some anti-roaders had slept on the bypass's route. They drank tea from mugs and milk-bottles and talked about a Britain choking from traffic pollution, duped by officialdom and inert through ignorance. Stephen King, a Bath guitar teacher, thought they would win this battle. 'I ran a campaign in 1985 to install zebra crossings in Muswell Hill. We won.'

Judith Dinsdale, an unemployed Bath art gallery manageress, called for 'a philosophy that encompasses the whole world - a Unesco perhaps'. Gesturing towards Bel Mooney's tent, she sighed: 'I have seen something like this near the Tibetan border.'

(Photographs and map omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
peopleComedian star of Ed Sullivan Show was mother to Ben Stiller
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?