The National Trust has announced the purchase of four acres of woodland adjoining the lorry park of Cherwell Valley Motorway Services on the M40. The Trust claims the site is ‘England’s first dogging location, according to authenticated records and personal testimony’. After months of negotiation with the service area’s owner, Moto Services Ltd and the farmer who owns the remainder of the land, the acquisition was made public at a press conference yesterday in the nearby Travelodge.
Arabella Whitmarsh, the NT’s Director of Acquisitive Diversity, said, ‘The National Trust has traditionally focused on the homes and landscapes of the aristocracy and the upper middle classes. It’s long overdue that we acknowledged the diversity of landscape uses in modern England. Dogging is as typically English as cricket and Morris dancing, perhaps even more so in our age. I really see it as another form of English pastoral, a desire for reconnection with the countryside, a search for a lost Eden. If Edmund Spenser were alive today he might be writing eclogues for The Dogger’s Calendar and not The Shepherd’s Calendar. And who knows, if William Wordsworth were walking the countryside he might be transported by a host of silver condom wrappers, beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Yet dogging is an essentially modern phenomenon because the activity takes place in proximity to a car park.’
Also at the press conference were Dave and Paula Riley, a couple from nearby Bicester who were among the very first to ‘dog’ at the site and who have contributed a short memoir to the souvenir booklet. ‘For us, it came out of the early Eighties swinging scene, ‘ Dave explained. ‘We all had an exhibitionist streak back in those days. We heard about this place from Dirty Don and Sleazy Sue, two friends of ours. The first time we came here it was just us, them and another couple from Birmingham, up the M40.’
‘The funny thing is. we’ve never actually met anyone who knows who started it,’ Paula said. ‘Even Don and Sue, God rest them, weren’t sure about that. It was like there was something in the atmosphere – or someone planted the idea in our minds. We all felt an urge to come here and be really naughty – and then it just became part of our routine, like going to the supermarket or something. It was a real community in those days.’
Dave went on talk to about a strange happening one night in the late 1980s. ‘It was early Spring, about nine o’clock in the evening. We were on the edge of the wood, close to the lorry park. All of a sudden, there were these dazzling lights shining on us. It was so bright we thought it was an HGV with its headlights on full beam. You know, some lorry driver getting his kicks from watching us. But then we realised the light was coming from above us. Some sort of craft, just hovering there, like it was watching us. ‘Course, everyone stopped what they were doing for a bit. We gave them a wave — and a jiggle. But nothing happened, so we just carried on. Everyone thought it was funny — sort of, come on, let’s give ‘em a show. After about half an hour, they left, just like that. Never happened again. Weird, though. An unexpected item in the dogging area.’
‘I heard that the farmer found a crop circle in one of his fields the next morning,‘ Paula said. ‘Sort of like a combined phallic and vulval symbol. But he got rid of it before anyone could photograph it. Didn’t want people tramping over his fields to take a look.’ Paula paused with a faraway look in her eyes. ‘Makes you think though.’
Arabella Whitmarsh says that the Trust will leave the area as close to its original state as possible. ‘Of course all woodland needs to be managed, but we won’t be building any visitor facilities on the site. National Trust members will get a discount at the food and drink outlets in the Moto services and be able to use the conveniences there. We’ll have a gift shop caravan in the lorry park, with ‘Cherwell Valley Dogging’ branded tea towels and shortbread. We’re also looking at a range of National Trust condoms and lingerie. And this midsummer eve we’re planning an event that we’re calling ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dogging Dream’. I can’t tell you too much about it yet but I’m very excited about the creative director we’ve hired. I can’t announce who the person is yet, but think BBC and RSC. And rest assured, the whole event will be family-friendly up until 9pm, after which under-18s will be asked to leave.’
For further information and updates on the Cherwell Valley project, visit the National Trust website.