There was a time when the lord of the manor allowed his tenants the common right to use sections of his land. In the main this was open pasture where they could graze livestock, dig up turf for fuel and give their pigs access to free acorns. But, as is so often the case, it didn’t take long before the more forward thinking among the landed gentry deduced they would make more money if they kept all the land for themselves. The outcome was various acts of enclosure and a centuries-long struggle to regain access for all.
Although in the south of England the vestiges of common land that still exist are mainly of the village green variety, elsewhere in the country substantial tracts remain as do the commoners who continue to exercise their feudal rights. I had occasion, recently, to visit two such pieces of hillside – Cleeve Hill Common and Garway Hill Common. The former is an undulating plateau with one of the bumps forming the County Top of Gloucestershire. I am sure, conventional livestock use these uplands from time to time but on the occasion of my visit the only evidence of animal life was a pack of dogs which presumably belonged to the owners of various mobile phones and a particular species of biped that attempted to hit a ridiculously small ball with an unnecessarily long stick. Nevertheless, a decent enough walk can be engineered - with, if you go on the right day, a free view of Cheltenham Races thrown in.
Garway is a similar nice little hill, eminently suitable for those of advancing years. The angle is more than amenable and the terrain is a springy turf which would put many a Home Counties lawn to shame. The hill’s main claim to fame is that on a fine day you can apparently see seven counties though it is not absolutely clear what advantage accrues from such a convenience. This Common was more orthodox than its Gloucestershire counterpart, containing along with sheep, cows and ponies an Iron Age homestead and a brick building constructed to confuse the enemy in the last war. But by far the most interesting part of the proceedings was its beginnings. The hamlet that formed Base Camp, so to speak, is Bagwyllydiart. This Welsh enclave seems to have strayed into a world of country house parties, electronic gates and ageing bald men driving expensive motor cars and should be congratulated, therefore, on a very brave effort at establishing Home Rule. The really interesting spot, however, is further up the hill. I am not sure as to the correct diminutive of hamlet (hamlette, perhaps) but this group of buildings consists of a burnt-out telephone box, a dead pub with the rather optimistic title of The Rising Sun and a lean-to cottage with an appended notice that the Trustees would be more than happy to relinquish the freehold for a knockdown (being the operative word) price to ensure a quick sale.
One final point of contiguity is both these Commons form part of Long Distance Footpaths, modern constructs that, no doubt, still echo with centuries-old disputes.