It’s not often that horse-drawn vehicles come through town. When a handsome cob and cart were seen trotting up and down the streets in September, we caught up with the driver outside Tesco where he was sitting with his dog and guitar.
Dec spent a week in Oundle. He had been busking in Peterborough and was told that Oundle was a nice place, so he came to town to spend some time.
He has been travelling since he left school at 16, about seven years ago. He explained, “I liked education, I read a lot of books, but school didn’t work out for me. People thought I was a bit mad. I felt like a misfit, I didn’t fit in.” Growing up in Somerset, near Frome, Travellers were common in the area, and people living alternative lifestyles was not uncommon.
Life on the road has an appeal that he cannot explain, but he is realistic. “While the lifestyle might seem romantic, the romance wears off very soon,” he said.
Dec is a guitarist and plays traditional music, usually earning enough to pay expenses through the year. “I earn my own way through busking. I’ve never signed on for benefits,” he said.
His companions on the road are his 17-year-old lurcher and his cob and cart in which he travels a maximum of 25 miles a day, usually 15 miles. He stops to spend the night in laybys or a bit of land. He has not encountered any problems and is never told to move on.
“The most important thing is to leave nothing behind. I even find myself picking up stuff I find. I recycle my waste,” he said. However, he is worried about possible new legislations that will make trespass a criminal offence, and make it more difficult to find places to stay.
Gypsies and Travellers are defined as persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin. This includes ‘born’ Gypsies and Travellers as well as ‘elective’ Travellers such as New Age Travellers.
The Housing Act 2004 requires local authorities to assess the needs of Gypsies and Travellers in the area and develop strategies to meet them. The 2011 report for North Northamptonshire assessed a ten year need for 30 residential pitches and 4 transit pitches.
A common form of Gypsy and Traveller site is a residential site provided by a local authority or by a registered provider, usually a housing association.
The 2018 updated assessment reported that no public transit provision had been put in place following the previous assessment, although a number of larger private sites are sometimes used to accommodate transit visitors.
The maximum period of residence can vary from a few days or weeks to a period of months. An alternative to a transit site is an emergency or negotiated stopping place which also has restrictions on the length of time someone can stay on it, but has much more limited facilities.
The last year has been difficult for Travellers and there have been few opportunities to busk to earn money. Dec spent lockdown in Somerset, where the council offered him some land and set up a toilet and made him safe. Some local residents objected, but were told that he had a right to stay there. He said he was planning on travelling to the West Midlands after Oundle, though he was not sure where he would spend the winter.
Dec sometimes joins up with other Travellers, but mostly heads off on his own. He prefers to travel solo rather than in a group because his horse does not like to follow other horses. He is not online but does keep a basic pay-as-you-go phone in his pocket. He is never certain about where to spend the night and sometimes wakes up in the morning wondering why he chose such a bad spot. “Then a short bit down the road I find a wonderful place where I could have stayed,” he said.
Wherever he travels, he says, “We try to find the magic.”
1 December 2020