I have a large collection of music. If you read this blog, even occasionally, you may have realised I try to find a vaguely appropriate song title or lyrics to head up the page. Not very long ago, I chose “…you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”, from Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”, about an issue that, by coincidence, I will be coming back to at the end of this new chapter. My title here is from the same song. It hurts me to have to use it, but it’s the best I can think of for what you see in the photo above, and for what follows.
You won’t need any reminding that my photographic focus – obsession almost – for quite a while now has been my local stretch of the River Medway, which I can reach within a couple of minutes from home. My recent photo exhibition was a prayer of thanks to the River and what it has shown me over the last four or five years.
There was a twist. On the very day the show opened, work began to turn several miles of the Medway riverside path, my access route for everything I’d shot, into a cycle path. This is no cosmetic alteration, however. For a start, it is requiring the path to be closed to all users for a period that may be as long as the next six months. My exhibition thus became a time-capsule both of views that are about to change significantly, and views which, no matter how much they might have inspired my visitors, will be inaccessible for quite a long time.
As a regular visitor to the riverside, I wasn’t taken in by the County Council’s claim that the public notices detailing the work to be done had been posted “at the right time”. All along, an absence of information about what exactly was going to be done, and particularly when, has been a hallmark of this project, ever since news of it first appeared in the local press at the beginning of the year. I’d regularly met surveyors etc along the path, but they seemed to have been briefed not to give very much away. None, when questioned, would ever tell me the size or exact nature of the path for which they were preparing, and were very uninformative about things like tree clearance. Much the same story was shared with me by dog-walkers and other regular river path users, who had asked them the same questions.
Nevertheless, less drastic river path “improvement” work had happened before, and was soon softened by nature. I was prepared to give the proposals the benefit of the doubt.
Until work actually began. That’s what the photo at the head of this blog emphasises. This path is a 2.5 metre wide, black-topped monster. The photo comes from a section of the route where, to be kind, there is room to accommodate that kind of width. However, such information as has been published makes it clear that this will be the scale of the path throughout its length. Where the river path sits between the fence for the Medway Valley rail line and the edge of the rive bank, there are many sections where accommodating 2.5 metres of engineered blacktop will pretty much fill the whole space available. Already, several apparently healthy trees have been felled, and others have ominous blue crosses on their trunks. This seems to indicate they will be “in the way”. Can you imagine such a wide, tarmac path being added to the route in the photo below? It may already have been done, by the time you read this.
I’m no “nimby”, and take on board all of the points that have been made to me, about opening up disabled access, and encouraging cycling. My concerns are over the wholly disproportionate nature of the path being laid, plus the risk that it will become a ready route for illicit motorcycle use, and access for fly-tippers. Both have been happily absent to date. Needless to say, my emails asking the named County Council contact for information and reassurances on these points have gone unanswered.
Oh, and Joni got it right. They’re also putting up more than one “parking lot”.
When I began this piece, I said I’d return to my earlier blog. Well, yesterday, I made an early morning return to my favourite part of the river path. You’ll know the spot. I’ve used photos from it to head three of the last five instalments of this blog. Yesterday was deeply cold, with particularly thick frost. The winter sun hardly reaches this area before noon.
Over recent months, what remains of my favourite viewpoint has become thickly overgrown with Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Hogweed. These had inevitably died back a little in the autumn. The frost had felled them further still. I had a walking pole with me, and it was amazingly easy to hack a path and a clearance in the brittle remains, to give me back access to within feet of the spot I had once photographed from so often. As the exact spot had eroded back into the river, I couldn’t recreate it to the inch – despite the water’s edge being frozen! I shall be doing my best henceforth to keep this area clear, though balsam and hogweed are voracious and speedy, and I don’t know if I’ll win.
Thankfully, at least for now, there are no plans to extend the cycle path to this area of the river. But for how long?