If you were driving along in heavy city traffic, carefully navigating your route through a busy East London roundabout intersection, you might suddenly be surprised on your exit towards the Wanstead underpass to find a road sign warning you of a cattle grid ahead. Sure enough, a few seconds later with an oddly echoing vrrmm… vrrmm… your tires would indeed vibrate over the metal grid set across the relatively modern road surface.
So what’s it all about? Driving in London you may certainly anticipate having to watch out for (and avoid bumping into) pedestrians, cyclists, and all manner of other motorised vehicles apart from yourself – but cattle? Really? Apparently it all stems from centuries-old grazing rights on the common land of Epping Forest, where commoners living within the local parishes were historically allowed to graze their cattle all year round on the open land for an annual fee.
This practice was first restricted to grazing only between April and November in the late 1970s when a motorcyclist was killed after hitting a steer in bad weather, and this restriction continued throughout the 1980s. However, the BSE crisis followed almost immediately by a serious Foot-and-Mouth outbreak in the mid-1990s kept all cattle from being allowed to graze freely for the duration, and since that time they have not returned.
There has been much discussion over the intervening years about reinstating the practice once more, but to date nothing has been decided, although the cattle grids stay firmly in place. So for now, you’re quite safe from wandering bovines – but watch this space… 🙂