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
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing