Of Hedgerows, Sloes and and Reaves

We had some time after our appointment in Bury St. Edmunds this week to take a walk through the beautiful Abbey Gardens there, and back up along the pedestrian shopping area. For some reason, we usually gravitate to the bookstores, so browsed a bit at Waterstone. I was drawn to a book called, A Natural History of the Hedgerow: and ditches, dykes and dry stone walls, by John Wright.

The amazing hedgerows we encounter daily in our drives through the country are unique to Great Britain, and I think here in Norfolk and Suffolk are wonderful examples. I love how in summer they grow so full that many create a canopy over and across the road, neatly trimmed to form high walls and arches. Curious to know more about their history and purpose, I thumbed through the book, but then came home and did some internet snooping to discover more.

The hedgerows serve and served a multitude of purposes:

  • Enclosures for livestock
  • Boundary delineation
  • Historic indicators
  • Windbreaks for crops and herds
  • Habitats for field mice and butterflies
  • and my favorite, a food source for peasants! Yes, hedgerows are often made up of hazelnuts, blackberries and sloes (the fruit of the blackthorn bush).

A survey in 1988 recorded over 8000 km (5000 miles) of stone walls, together with 1000 km (620 miles) of hedgerow and 250 km (155 miles) of fence. (OutofOblivion.org)

These quintessentially British features have fallen in and out of favour through the centuries, from their earliest appearance as boundary markers and livestock enclosures, through removal when modern farm machinery found them a hinderance, to today when there are grants and laws protecting and preserving them.

The history of hedgerows and other enclosures is closely woven into the history of the country.

From the FarmCollector.com:

The Inclosure Acts [allowing landowners to build boundary walls] resulted in huge poverty and crippling restrictions for the poor and the working classes. These Acts of Parliament meant that traditional rights to graze livestock on common land were suddenly ended. That caused a massive de-population of the countryside, with the poor folk heading toward urban areas, desperate for employment. Some stayed to become tenant farmers, but they were often left without rights and suffered much hardship.

Today there are several avenues of funding available to preserve stone walls especially. There are wall-building competitions as well, an indicator of British pride in this aspect of their history and heritage.

It can be painstaking (not to mention back-breaking) work, but most wallers I know love the fact that they are working out in the open, and they particularly enjoy the thought that they are restoring a centuries-old landmark, which, if they do their job properly, may stand for a further few hundred years. Of course at one time wall building was “peasants’ work,” no matter how skilled a job it was, but with grant funding to pay for this kind of work, it is more lucrative than it has ever been. (FarmCollector.com)

So we come to reaves, which I know you are anxiously waiting to know about. This is the name specifically given to the stone walls covering miles of the moors of Dartmoor, and are arguably the oldest type of stone wall in the UK:

From a site called LegendaryDartmoor I learned…

A  reave is a stone wall, often of considerable length, built to divide an area of land. Most occur as part of extensive walled field systems. This is a regional term specific to Dartmoor and should not be used in other parts of the country.”  English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus

Firstly, why are they called reaves?

Simply because the word ræw is an old Saxon word which means ‘line’ or ‘row’ and this has mutated to reave which denotes a ‘line’ or ‘row’ of continuous banking, (Clark Hall, 2004, p.277).

When were they constructed?

The majority of the Dartmoor reaves were built during the Middle Bronze Age (approx. 1500 BC)

There you have it! I hope you have enjoyed this bit of British history, and now have a greater appreciation for these ubiquitous landmarks.

Dartmoor Reaves


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Ya’ Alright?

I had an “Aha!” moment today as I realized the true meaning behind this British greeting. Several times lately I’ve been greeted by a UK friend with, “You alright?” and I thought to myself, “I must be looking sad/bad/tired or something that would make them think something was wrong…” so I would respond with something like, “Oh! I’m okay…just a bit tired, I guess….” to try to explain my “down” appearance. But it came to me that this is just the typical greeting, like, “How do you do?” or “How are you?” and it doesn’t (necessarily) mean I’m looking a bit sickly and in need of solicitous comfort. Sometimes it does seem like a foreign language is being spoken all around me…


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Z is for Zebra Crossing

The Zebra crossing is the earliest of the Animal Crossings and is most similar to pedestrian crossings found throughout the world. It consists of white stripes across the road, with Belisha Beacons (named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, who was the Transport Minister in 1934, when these crossings, minus the Zebra striping were introduced.)


Photo by camcycle.org.uk

It’s a tricky dance of who has priority in a Zebra Crossing: Motorists must give way to pedestrians who have started across (one foot on the crossing) but should not stop at a crossing if the pedestrian is still on the sidewalk. And one should NEVER NEVER NEVER wave a pedestrian to cross if they haven’t done so of their own accord. Thus the Driving Code handbook states you should “slow and be prepared to stop” upon seeing a pedestrian standing at a Zebra Crossing.

[Oh, and thanks to Jonny Lee Miller, I am now savvy to the pronunciation: it’s Zebra, with a soft ‘e’, not ZEE-bra. 

And, according to Peter Hitchins, Zebras are the real “pedestrian controlled” crossings, and after reading his diatribe, I must admit, I agree.

**Breaking News**

A newcomer to the Crossing Zoo is the Tiger Crossing. I mention this type here, as it is mainly a zebra crossing that is yellow and black, in which cyclist may also cross. This is new to the Crossing Zoo, and isn’t even in the Highway Code book yet; it is being rolled out in London first.

So, that’s it, folks…Hope you enjoyed our A-Z romp through the highways and byways and carriageways of the British Driving Code. Phew!

Anyone care to guess how many tries it took for me to pass my test(s)?


ONE! Husband and I now have official British Drivers’ Licenses!!

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Y is for Young Drivers

young drivers  get a whole page in the Code book. It states that young drivers often are involved in incidents early in their driving careers. Having gone through four iterations of teen drivers among my own offspring, I can attest to this being true.

Some of the reasons for this are

  • Natural exuberance of youth
  • showing off to friends
  • competitive behavior
  • lack of experience/judgement
  • overconfidence
  • distractions (loud music, friends)

The countermeasure to these liabilities is another “scheme”– the Pass Plus scheme.  This is a course for new drivers who would like to improve their basic skills and widen their driving experience. “You may also receive reduced insurance premiums…”

As much as I feel like I’m a new driver (having to apply for a provisional license, with all its accompanying restrictions, and having to take the theory, perception and road test again), I think I can safely say I am not influenced by any of the above hazards that the young driver may experience. Thankful for being a “pensioner!”


A very young driver…”Hey! Eyes on the road, young lady!”

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X is for X-crossing

Known as the Pedestrian Scramble in other countries, this is a pedestrian free-for-all. When the signal is given, pedestrians may cross in any direction, including diagonally. The first X-crossing in the UK was in Balham in 2005 (see photo below by Nick Cooper at en.wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)DIGITAL CAMERA

Although very popular in Japan, there are only a few other places where you can find an X-crossing in the UK (Swansea, Wimbledon, Wood Green, Oxford Circus and now Harrogate in 2015). There is some controversy concerning their safety, especially since a recent collision at the Harrogate crossing between a vehicle and an elderly pedestrian resulted in the death of the pedestrian.

Oxford_Circus,_November_2009(photo by Mike Roberts from London, United Kingdom – New Oxford Circus X-CrossingUploaded by Sceptre, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8377071)

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W is for words

I’ve added lots of new words to my vocabulary through this study of the British Driving Code, some of which have been included in the various posts (Belisha, chicanes, droves, shunt, lorry, kickdown). Here are a few more that didn’t make it into specific posts:

Biting point: that moment when the engine gear takes hold as you slowly let out the clutch (in a manual shift car.)

Bonnet: British for the hood of the car. I admit that I was familiar with this term as well as the next one, but they were not incorporated into my vocabulary as they are now.

Boot: the trunk of the car.

Cabriolet: (ie. convertible) an automobile that can convert from a closed interior to an open-air vehicle.

Camber:  “the angle at which the road normally slopes away from the centre to help drainage. An Adverse camber is where the road slopes downwards towards the outside of the corner and the forces acting on your vehicle could cause it to leave the road more easily than on a normal corner. It may be counteracted by banking, where the slope of the road turns upwards towards the outside of the bend. ( page 132 of the Official DVSA Guide to Driving.)

Gantries: Electronic information signs positions above and across motorways

Hackney: taxi or cab. The etymology is interesting. It was thought that the word came from the French haquenee, which is a small horse. Others contend that the word came from the London district of Hackney…But Hackney District is known for being the location where these rides for hire began around the year 1025. So was the town of Hackney named for the small french horses because they had so many in use there for public conveyance, or were the conveyances named after the town? Definitely a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Across the pond in NYC, the term has been adopted, with the  “hack” (taxi or taxi-driver), “hackstand” (taxi stand), and “hack license” (taxi license) in common usage.

Tick-over: slow running of the engine, even when you don’t press the accelerator. This can be dangerous if you are stationary but not in Park or using a parking brake, as the car can still move forward without accelerating.


[photos courtesy of http://london-taxi-cabs.com/ and http://www.tilleytalkstravel.com/]

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V is for Vehicle Watch Scheme

This one is actually quite “brilliant” [I love this British expression–I’m adopting it. The clerks in the stores always tell me I’m “brilliant” when I manage to give them the right change for my purchases…it’s quite the ego boost. Anyway, back to the topic…]

In the chapter entitled, Vehicle Security, I found this information:

Join a Vehicle Watch scheme, if there is one in your area (check with your local police station). This scheme reduces the risk of having your car stolen by displaying high-visibility stickers on the front and rear windscreens of your vehicle. There are two types of stickers:

Vehicle Watch: by displaying these you’re inviting the police to stop your vehicle if they see it in use between midnight and 5:00 am

25-plus: by displaying these you’re also inviting them to stop your vehicle at any time of day if it’s being driven by anyone apparently under 25 years of age.

I’d like to see some statistics on how effective this scheme is, as it seems to me it would be quite easy for any would-be thief to just peal off the stickers once he’d driven off around the corner…


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U is for Urban Congestion

London suffers the worst traffic congestion in the UK and amongst the worst in Europe. Drivers in central London used to spend 50% of their time in queues and lost 3 million pounds every week in wasted time caused by congestion. Several measures have been taken to solve this problem:

  • Red Routes are streets marked with various lines and signage that regulate loading, unloading, parking and passenger pickup.
    • Double red lines along the edge of the street mean stopping isn’t allowed at any time for any reason
    • Single red lines allows for parking, loading or pickup of passengers only on off-peak times (after 7 pm or before 7 am, and Sundays)
    • Red Boxes indicate parking or loading permitted at off-peak times, which are shown on the sign
    • White boxes indicate parking or loading may be allowed at any time, with certain restrictions noted on the sign.
    • Red Route clearways are areas where there are no road markings but clearway signs indicate that stopping isn’t allowed at any time except at marked lay-bys.
  • A Congestion Charging Scheme is in place where you must pay to drive in London during peak hours. Even the residents are not exempt, though they do get a lower rate to pay. It is all done via cameras and online, so there is no getting away with it! As you enter and exit a congestion zone, your photo is taken. At midnight, images of all the vehicles that have been in the charging zone are checked against the vehicle registration numbers of those that have paid the fee. If you should have paid but haven’t, a penalty charge notice is mailed to the registered owner. 
  • Transport Strategy is an overarching scheme to make public transportation more readily available, affordable, reliable and efficient.

So, take the Tube and Mind the Gap!



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T is for Toucans

The Toucan crossing is second only to the Zebra for clarity and ease of remembering. Both bicyclists and pedestrians may cross on a Toucan Crossing, thus the name Toucan, or two-can cross. It is the only crossing where the bicyclist can ride across, and not have to dismount first [with one exception, which you must wait until the letter Z to find out].

Because they are made for bicyclists as well as pedestrians, they are usually wider than a regular Puffin or Pelican or Zebra.

Toucan crossing

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S is for SAT NAV

We have a love/hate relationship with our Satellite Navigation System. We were warned ahead of time by our predecessors that we absolutely must have one, so we dutifully purchased a Garmin first thing. It’s true that we would be literally lost without it, but it is not infallible by any stretch of the imagination. Even after updates, it

  • led us to a non-existent on-ramp to a carriageway (“take the slip-road on the left to enter A11…” “Wait, what?? There is nothing but grass here….”)
  • can’t recognize roads on the military bases
  • is haphazard about whether it will accept an address or not (sometimes it will accept a road, but not a house number, giving us other choices than the one we want; or after inputting a street name, it will pull up a totally different name–often one CLOSE to the road we want, but why not the one we want??)
  • will take us to the same places via different routes. How does it choose, when it won’t give us a choice?
  • Whenever we select “HOME” it won’t give us alternate routes, just begins navigating…what if we wanted to take the scenic route home??
  • But the most incredible directions we got was when we missed a turn and Ms. Garmin rerouted us to take the next road. As we did so, it soon became apparent that our route was deteriorating into very narrow farm roads, or “droves.” That was okay, we’d done that before; not the best situation if we encounter another vehicle, but doable…then, the next instruction was, “Prepare to drive off-road.” WHAT? Turn off into the field of potatoes?? I don’t think so…We kept going and eventually found a real road, but I couldn’t believe that command was even in the database…

Once it gave us a good laugh: we were way out in the boondocks, driving along farm roads with not another vehicle in sight, when, for the first time, Ms Garmin broke in and said, “Traffic is flowing smoothly along your route.” Perfect! Very helpful information!
As necessary as the SAT NAV is to negotiate the labyrinth of a road system here, we have come to rely even more heavily on prayer and faith that we will be guided to the right destination, and THAT navigation system has never let us down.


Prepare to drive off-road…

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