This past week I’ve had the unbridled pleasure of travelling along that most inspiring of highways, the M62. It is a motorway beyond compare, with its exciting and unpredictable crosswinds keeping you constantly on your toes, its relentless rain and spray making the road in front of you seem almost invisible and, best of all, its generous supply of opportunities to pause and admire the Pennine scenery thanks to a recurring snake of red brake lights that has a habit of appearing out of nowhere.
My youngest son and I were heading to Manchester to see the rock band Queen in concert. We were supposed to go two years ago for his 18th birthday, but the Covid pandemic put paid to that. It was rescheduled three times, but this time the show went ahead (suffice to say, it was fantastic and worth waiting for!).
Possibly the most famous part of the M62 is when you reach Stott Hall Farm, otherwise known as ‘The Farm Between the Lanes’, which lies just south of Ripponden, West Yorkshire. The east and westbound carriageways divide to go around the farm, which lies in the middle like a 15-acre grassy island.
I recounted to my son the well-known story of how, when the motorway was proposed in the 1960s, the sheep farmer who lived there, despite hefty financial inducements, refused point blank to sell. The powers that be had no choice but to build the road around him. My son was very impressed with this story of plucky Yorkshire grit, of a man prepared to sacrifice financial security to preserve his land and the way of life that he’d inherited from his forbears. What a rousing David and Goliath tale!
But, dear reader, it is absolute and utter hogwash. OK, so part of me was already wondering if it was an urban myth when I decided to look into it further, but I did think there might be at the very least a grain of truth in it. But no, it is a country mile away from the real story.
I know this because I came across a 1983 Yorkshire Television documentary in which said farmer, Ken Wild, and his wife Beth, were interviewed. They explained that they didn’t need to move because the farm lies on a geological fault, which means that the land dips significantly. To correct this and create four lanes of level motorway would have been extremely complex and prohibitively expensive and so the decision was taken to re-route the M62 around the farm, rather than to forge right through it.
Two underpasses were built to the north and south so that the family could get off their ‘island’, and could also drive their flock of sheep to the moorland either side of the motorway.
You might think that having the constant thunder of traffic passing so close would mean a peaceful life was hard to come by, but not according to Mr & Mrs Wild, who claimed that once inside the house, they barely heard it, thanks to triple glazed windows. They also debunked the oft-repeated tale that it was them who blasted loud pop music from their rooftop at the contractors as they built around them. Apparently that was another farmer on a different part of the route.
Although Ken Wild was glad not to have had to sell up, he did say there were some drawbacks, such as neighbours never popping in for a quick cuppa, or the windows always needing cleaning – they got overly dusty on dry days, and covered in spray on wet ones. They’d also experienced their fair share of casualties, such as a lorry that came careering through a wall into the farmyard, landing upside down. Thankfully, the driver escaped unharmed. One year, they had three crashes in one week!
Back in the 1980s, they also regularly had stranded motorists calling on them at all times of day and night asking to use the phone because they’d broken down (apparently they would take their life in their hands by dashing across the lanes to leap over the wall to get to the farm house).
Thanks to the advent of mobile phones, the current tenant should sleep peacefully knowing he won’t have to answer his door to stricken drivers any more. As for cars crashing into his yard, unfortunately no-one can say when that will come to an end.
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 17th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 15th June 2022