Is it a sign?

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Personally, I don’t like being told where to go. I like to roam free, to feel the wind in my hair and experience the wild open countryside that unfurls over every hill and across every stream. I like a sense of wilderness and abandonment when I stray beyond the Berkeley Squares front door.

Of course, Bristol no longer enjoys the heat of the savannah and very few fragments of ancient forests remain. Its wild open places are now shopping centres and the closest we get to anything uncultivated is the odd weed or a discarded packet of crisps. This is why places like Coombe Dingle are so important. They make us feel Stone Age again – very important when everything else defines and boxes us in as our genes never intended. You and I, we were designed to hunt, to live quickly and to die in battle, not to spend all day at a desk, staring at numbers and words, being nice to our enemies and walking in straight lines along pavements. Coombe Dingle frees us to be human again, to rip off our suits, put on animal skins, find a spear and swing through the trees like Tarzan – or Jane. It makes us want to build huts and start fires and beat our chests. The last thing we want, in the primaeval forests of our imagination, is for someone to put up a sign telling us not to.

For those of you who don’t know this, the Coombe Dingle gorge was formed in one of two possible ways: either it was created by the eroding passage of the Hazel Brook over thousands of years, or it was the work of the ancient Bristol giant Goram who lost his love in a wager and who drowned himself in despair after failing in his quest to drain a lake by digging a channel through the Dingle. Goram’s head and shoulders can still be seen in the Severn Estuary and are known as Steep Holm and Flat Holm. In either event, Coombe Dingle is a dangerous place. First inhabited by Neolithic farmers, it features dozens of perilous limestone outcrops and sheer drops as well as the hazardous looking lakes, the Giant’s Soapdish and the Penny Well, and two caves: the Robber’s Cave and the Butcher’s Cave, free to be explored by anyone brave enough to negotiate this cauldron of ancient witchcraft and wizardry.

However, Bristol City Council has decided that, to complete the atmosphere, what the Dingle needs is a bit of superfluous motorway signage. Quite how these signs might help anyone, we are not sure – perhaps they conjure ancient spells, perhaps, even now, the wizards of City Hall are sitting on Goram’s chair, stirring the pot and whispering magic words to hold back the ancient limestone.

Earlier this week Berkeley Squares contacted the council on your behalf and was told that the signage is necessary to protect the authority from litigation in the event of an accident. It’s good that they take their responsibility of care so seriously.

We will now be writing to the Mayor to seek clarification and to establish the cost of this protection, which we consider an utterly unnecessary waste of public funds as well as a visually unpleasant intrusion. We hope to report their response shortly.