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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform