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Storm in the Willows - Ratty response to car park proposal

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Guardian - Tuesday August 15, 2000

by Helen Carter

A rural oasis on the banks of the river Thames, which was the inspiration for Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and for the artist Sir Stanley Spencer, is under threat.

A proposal is being considered to build a car park on the tranquil Marsh Meadow in Cookham, Berkshire. Council planners say it is desperately needed - but many villagers argue it would spoil the area.

Grahame created his enduringly popular characters Badger, Mole, Ratty and Toad while walking along the riverbank near Cookham, an area he described as "heaven on the Thames".

David Ricardo, of the Marsh Meadow Protection Group, has collected the signatures of 1,170 people opposed to the car park.

Mr Ricardo, whose relative, Colonel Francis Ricardo, inspired the character of Toad, said the meadow was a national attraction because of its artistic and literary connections.

"People say that it has the most unsurpassed view in the whole Thames valley," he said. "This view will be destroyed if a car park is built on the Marsh Meadow. Even though Cookham is only 45 minutes from the centre of London what makes it attractive is how rural it is. We don't need a car park - there is adequate parking here already."

Cookham attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year; last year 16,000 people visited the Stanley Spencer gallery in the village.

The meadow, on green belt land, is virtually unchanged since Spencer painted it in 1934 in The Scarecrow.

The National Trust, which has a small car park on Cookham Moor, has not yet decided whether it will support the scheme. If it were to go ahead, access would be required across the trust's land.

Windsor and Maidenhead council, which is considering the plan, says the proposed car park would have a rural appearance with extensive planting and gravel surfaces. It would offer easy access to the village and river and would be landscaped to screen it from important views across the river and moor, said a spokeswoman.

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