Kirtling is a small village that sprawls wide over the rolling Cambridgeshire countryside just outside Newmarket.
It is quiet and classic.
The grass verges are neatly mown, hanging baskets are lovingly tended and the lanes are punctuated by the sound of cooing doves and the gentle ‘lop-lop’ of hedge clippers.
The 300-odd residents here are well served with every possible treat English country life can offer.
Linda Watson was refused planning permission to build a house on her smallholding on the edge of the village
And, in revenge on her ‘unsupportive’ fellow villagers — who she said were ‘up their own a****’ — decided she was going to hand it over free (yes, free) to travellers to live on
Linda Watson was confronted by villagers outside her home today after offering travellers her land to annoy locals
There are walking groups, sewing groups, hymn-singing tea parties and morris men. The village hall positively buzzes with events.
Last week there was a dog fun day. This Saturday, it’s the annual village show, complete with vegetable display and bowls competition.
And that’s about as dramatic as it gets around here.
Or it was, until Linda Watson was refused planning permission to build a house on her smallholding on the edge of the village.
And, in revenge on her ‘unsupportive’ fellow villagers — who she said were ‘up their own a****’ — decided she was going to hand it over free (yes, free) to travellers to live on.
Her only stipulation was that whoever moved onto the land should ‘ruin’ the village.
Linda Watson (pictured) says she wants travellers to take over her plot in Kirtling, near Newmarket in the hope it will create ‘s*** for the village’ – but she could prosecuted if she pursues her plan
Mrs Watson, 48, said yesterday she would be the ‘happiest woman going’ if travellers took up her offer to stay on her two-and-a-half acres (pictured on a plan) as long as they ‘ruin the village’
A wide view of Kirtling, a village near Newmarket in the Cambridgeshire countryside
To begin with, it looked like a joke.
Certainly, Kirtling residents hoped that it was.
But when travellers started turning up in their droves, queuing outside the smartly painted black gates of the Coedendderw Stud, which she has run as a rehabilitation centre for horses for the past seven years, it was clear that Linda, 48, meant business.
Tom and Karen McNauthton, who live a short distance from her small-holding, believe the village should get together and ‘block off her driveway and protest’
‘I am 110 per cent serious,’ she said yesterday. ‘I’ve got no option. It’s no wind-up. I’m at the end of my tether and we’ve been inundated with interest.’
Indeed, on Tuesday, she and her second husband, Mark, 50, a self-employed builder, had to shut the gate because so many turned up to lay claim to the land.
‘Some were from Ireland. One group turned up at 4pm and said details had been shared between 32 Facebook traveller sites,’ she says.
By yesterday afternoon she’d had several offers to buy it and was seriously considering them.
It was then that her neighbours started fighting back.
Tom and Karen McNaughton, who live just down the road, rallied fellow villagers to take action against her and ‘block off her driveway and protest’.
Karen, 57, said: ‘We should get the whole village down there to stand in the front of her gates. The village wants nothing to do with it.’
Others are being far less civilised — indeed Linda has already received death threats.
In the nearby Red Lion Pub, the afternoon drinkers were overflowing with unprintable views about her and the damage she could inflict on their village.
Could it really just be sour grapes at East Cambridgeshire District Council’s decision to turn down her planning application?
Of course not.
The 48-year-old has two sets of travellers coming to view the land this week (pictured behind her) and says she will hand it over for free
Ms Watson said: ‘It’s a great plot of land with electric, water and lovely scenery. I have advertised it on Facebook and had lots of interest from people wanting it for horses’
Linda, who’s owned the land for 17 years and who has lived in a caravan onsite since splitting from her first husband in 2010, has never really gelled with the local community. ‘They’re snobby, gossipy and two-faced and nosy,’ she said yesterday.
Meanwhile, they consider her ‘outspoken, confrontational, rude’ — and worse.
Some were particularly unhappy when, nearly five years ago, she moved into a static caravan on the land.
‘I didn’t go for planning, I’ll put my hands up,’ says Linda. ‘I knew I’d never have got it, but I have an eight-foot high gate and 20ft high hedges — it wasn’t as if it was going to affect anyone.’
But yesterday she revealed that her decision to welcome travellers was mainly down to her long-running dispute with her wealthy — and famous — next-door neighbours.
She claimed that renowned horse-trainer Lynda Ramsden, 67, (who helped launch the career of champion jockey Kieren Fallon) and her stockbroker-turned-gambler husband Jack, 75, had terrified her own horses by allowing a helicopter to land on the lawn of their home.
It’s a large, rambling house with immaculate lawns, a slew of expensive cars on the gravel, high curved brick walls, electric gates and — like Linda’s own property next door — is bristling with security cameras.
‘The helicopter landed 20ft from the border of our paddock,’ she says, adding that one beast was in such a state she was faced with ‘half a tonne of terrified horse — it would have thrashed about and killed itself if we hadn’t been there.’
Ms Watson had applied to build a small house on the land but says she is moving abroad after it was refused by the council
She spent £70,000 renovating the land and creating a stud farm and more recently she has run a horse rehabilitation business
She claims the Ramsdens had also allowed their young grandson to shoot an air rifle over her land: ‘A dying pigeon landed in front of one of our horses and sent it mad —they sent their gardener to wring it’s neck’.
And she also claims that they had allowed slurry to ‘overflow and come past our ditch’.
To add insult to injury, she claims that the Ramsdens had been allowed to extend their house after they bought it three years ago, while another neighbour was given permission to build a three-bedroom bungalow in their garden.
Yet her applications to build a bungalow on her land in order, she says, to improve her business and living conditions were routinely turned down.
Linda has lived in a mobile home on the land for seven years wit her husband
Planning records show that the Ramsdens — who yesterday declined to comment — wrote to the council in June last year to ‘express concern’ that Linda’s venture wasn’t ‘of sufficient size to
allow for a financially viable business’ and it would ‘struggle
to produce a long-term profit sufficient to demonstrate it could afford to construct a dwelling based on its income’.
Linda was furious. ‘I only wanted to build a two or three bedroom bungalow,’ she says.
‘We didn’t want a mansion — just somewhere to live after all those years in a caravan.’
And so she has wrought her revenge.
The farmer said that everyone in the village (pictured) is ‘too far up their own a***’
Not content with relying on social media, she went out actively rounding up potential tenants.
One woman who was contacted by the Daily Mail at a traveller camp with 36 caravans in nearby Newmarket confirmed they had been approached by Linda.
‘She has been here and we are interested,’ she said, insisting she did not want to be named.
Yesterday Linda was unrepentant. ‘No one else would be able to stand up to them [the Ramsdens],’ she says, adding that the ongoing problems with her neighbours had led her turning down offers from ‘lots’ of locals to rent the land for up to £700 a month because: ‘It’s not a safe place for horses — which is ironic, given their profession.’
Not surprisingly, the travellers are very keen.
Some have begged her to sell, or better still, offer her land in lots, so they could all have a bit.
But she says she’d be prepared to give it away, if necessary, just to stick the boot in.
It is easy to see why it is so desirable. Kirtling is a lovely place and Linda’s stud is a gorgeous spot and, according to her, worth £350,000 even without planning permission.
She has apparently spent £80,000 renovating the land, putting in a new drive, fencing, a lunge ring (for training horses) and updating the workshops and stables.
Ms Watson said noone in the Cambridgeshire village (pictured) has supported her plan
The latter, now home to just two horses — are immaculate, adorned with hanging baskets and painted in shiny black and a classy Farrow & Ball type green.
‘It’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful,’ she says. ‘It’s my pride and joy. And so peaceful.
‘All you can hear is the clop, clop, clop of hooves and the cockerels crowing.’
Not for long, though . . . It is also easy to see why the villagers are so nervous. Self-employed nail technician and local mother of two daughters Fleur Harker says: ‘It’s just so sad that she’s taking a spat with her direct neighbours out on the whole village.
‘We are a quiet village and I’ve worked hard to live in such a safe environment to raise my daughters in.
‘I have no problem with travellers but this situation could have been solved in a different way.’
And while Linda defends travellers, insisting ‘some of them dress better and speak better than half of normal people — I’d go out for dinner with some of my traveller friends’, her fellow villagers are less sure.
‘Obviously there are different types of travellers,’ says one.
Mrs Watson was so annoyed by the planning dispute she said she’d emigrate
‘Some are fine, but she has made it clear she wants the nastiest, most disruptive travellers on her land to ruin the village for the rest of us.’
One man, who asked not to be named, said: ‘Our houses will be devalued — who will want to live here? The cost of security will skyrocket. There’s bound to be crime.’
This is, after all, a village where the last serious crimes were a stolen wallet and the resurgence of hare coursing.
Last night, one possible solution posted by Fleur the nail technician, in an online village forum was that Linda could sell the land to the village.
‘You get back your investment, the village has its own land for a play area, cricket ground and other amenities — or is that just wishful thinking,’ she wrote.
In a dispute as petty and stupid as this, I rather suspect that it is.
Lawyers last night warned that Linda could be left with a huge bill if the council takes action against any illegal activity.
Andrew Leakey, a land dispute expert at Stephensons Solicitors, said: ‘If she retains ownership of the land then she possibly remains [legally and financially] liable for what is done on it.’
Costs could include paying to evict the travellers and clear up the site afterwards.
The district council last night confirmed that it could take legal action.
Planning manager Rebecca Saunt said: ‘If a change of use application is not received and approved we would take the appropriate enforcement action.
‘We have an unauthorised encampment policy which we will enforce immediately if required.’