Rufford Ford: Is ford loved by TikTokers a danger or harmless fun?

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The fallout from the closure of Rufford Ford

By Caroline Lowbridge
BBC News, Nottinghamshire

For decades, cars have been splashing through a notorious ford to the delight of onlookers, making it both a tourist attraction and social media sensation. Now a council wants to permanently close Rufford Ford “on safety grounds”. But how dangerous is the infamous site?

A white Mercedes-Benz approaches as a small crowd of people look on, with their camera phones poised.

The car enters the water with a splash, and the engine roars as the driver attempts to get to the other side.

Then the engine falls silent. The driver starts swearing.

“This car’s genuinely dead,” he says to one of the people filming. “It’s not mine.”

Rufford Lane ford: Millions watch cars get stuck in deep water

Videos like this have made Rufford Ford in Nottinghamshire famous around the world.

A ford has existed in the same spot for hundreds of years – and cars, vans, lorries and tractors have been crossing it likely since the invention of the motor vehicle.

For decades, it was just an attraction in the local area, somewhere families enjoyed gathering when they visited nearby Rufford Mill.

But YouTubers and TikTokers have made it famous far beyond the East Midlands after millions of people started watching videos of vehicles splashing through the ford, and sometimes failing to get through.

‘It’s my fault’

It all stopped in December 2022, when police asked Nottinghamshire County Council to temporarily close the highway on the grounds of public safety.

About six weeks beforehand, a motorcyclist had been filmed driving into the ford at speed and somersaulting off his bike, breaking his leg in four places.

“It’s my fault you can’t go there and watch now,” said the motorcyclist, who spoke to the BBC on the condition we did not identify him, because he feels embarrassed about what happened.

“I was thinking it’s just a bit of water and I would drive through it,” he said.

“At the time I was actually having quite a bad relapse in my mental health, so when it came to doing stupid stuff I thought, ‘why not?’ I didn’t understand what was going to happen to me.”

Rufford Ford has been closed to vehicles but people can still walk over the bridge at the side

The motorcyclist was injured on 19 October 2022, although a Nottinghamshire County Council report erroneously dates the accident as happening on 22 October 2022.

According to the report, police instructed the council that “escalating behaviour was creating a significant danger” and asked it to temporarily close the highway “on the grounds of public safety”.

Part of Rufford Lane – where the ford was located – was then closed to vehicles on 2 December 2022.

Since then, the council has been looking at different long-term options. These include building a bridge, improving signs, and putting in road humps and a chicane to slow down traffic.

The council’s preferred option, however, is to permanently close Rufford Ford to vehicles.

Councillor Neil Clarke, cabinet member for transport and environment, said: “We’ve looked at all sort of options and public safety is our number one priority.

“There have been incidents and injuries and we’ve looked to see if we can keep it open by speed reduction, but we thought it wasn’t viable and the best way to ensure the safety of the public is to actually close it.”

YouTuber Midlifecrisis101x said it was rare for a vehicle not to be able to get through Rufford Ford

However, some believe the dangers of the ford have been overstated.

Among them is YouTuber Midlifecrisis101x, who started filming there towards the end of 2021, and said the water was shallow for most of the year.

“In autumn through to the winter it would flood a fair amount, then summertime it wouldn’t, it would just be an inch or two inches deep,” he said.

Even if the road was flooded, he said it was unusual for a car not to be able to get through.

“It would be like one in 200 maybe, it was so rare for a car to actually get stuck,” he said.

“Sometimes we would go for two days filming just to bring someone six minutes of on-screen content.”

He and the other YouTubers filmed so many cars, they became able to predict which ones would make it through.

“Generally BMWs wouldn’t,” he said.

“The things like the little [Toyota] Aygos, Citroen C1s, incredible cars, they would get through in depth that you wouldn’t believe. The Fiat 500, really good car for it, you would see these things go through and think ‘how?'”

Families used to stand on the viewing platform and watch cars going through

To try to find out more about the scale of the problem, the BBC asked the council how many people had been injured and how many cars had been stuck there.

According to a council report, an average of 1,900 vehicles used to go down Rufford Lane every day before the ford closed.

However, the council said it did not have any data on how many vehicles got stuck or were damaged.

The AA previously named Rufford Ford as its “number one flood accident hotspot”, saying there had been 96 flood-related rescues in the five years from 2009.

No agencies, including police and the fire service, knew of anyone being injured at Rufford Ford, other than the motorcyclist.

The council is now due to begin a public consultation on the long-term options. So far, comments on its Facebook page have been overwhelmingly negative.

“So sad, my kids used to love this and waited with bated breath to get splashed by speeding cars, along with other kids,” one comment said.

Another said: “Bet you lot are fun at parties! You ever seen the crowds of people watching the cars go through it? Many people visit Rufford just to see this!”

Ollerton residents fear the closure of Rufford Ford will inadvertently lead to people being killed

But apart from the loss of an unlikely tourist attraction, are there downsides to closing the ford permanently?

Yes, according to some residents in Station Road, in nearby Ollerton.

They say drivers, who can no longer get down Rufford Lane, have been using their narrow road as a cut-through, and almost hitting some of the residents.

Steve Long, chair of Ollerton Village Residents’ Association, has already written to the council about the issue.

“I understand at Rufford Ford they’ve got a problem there, but closing the road, rather than fixing the problem, seems a bit thick-eared when we can’t get anything done about our road,” he said.

The man in this image said he had nearly been run over twice

One resident showed the BBC CCTV footage of cars repeatedly mounting the kerb outside his house, and a van getting very close to him as it drove along the pavement.

“I’ve been nearly run over twice, walking down the pavement with the dog,” he said.

“We’ve had people squaring up to each other because nobody wants to give way.”

He said there were problems before Rufford Ford closed, but estimated traffic had got about 25% worse since then.

Will Laughton said silt had built up in the river and needed to be removed

Will Laughton, owner of nearby Rufford Park Golf and Country Club, arranged for the river to be dredged – at his own cost – in 2015 after speaking to the landowner.

He says it now needs doing again in order to prevent the ford flooding as often as it does.

“The county council have come up with all these fanciful schemes to supposedly alleviate the problem, which are all ridiculously expensive, when all it needs is a bloke with a digger for a week,” he said.

He has a personal stake in this himself – because golfers now have to take a four-mile (6.4km) detour to visit his club, and he says fewer people are visiting as a result.

In response to Mr Laughton’s suggestion, councillor Clarke said: “The dredging of the dyke might well reduce the level but it won’t stop the water completely, and part of the problem has been people using it for a spectacle, and it would still mean that there’s still a danger to the safety of the public.”

The ford has a depth level, which drivers could use to help judge whether or not to cross

However, YouTuber Midlifecrisis101x refutes that anyone put themselves in danger.

“We would stand on the sides,” he said. “The bridge was actually best for us due to the camera angle.”

With the public consultation now due to begin, what does the motorcyclist who triggered the ford’s closure think should happen?

“I don’t think it needs a full closure, but something needs to be done,” he said.

“Let’s be fair, I’m that one idiot who went through the ford at 50mph on a motorbike.”

“Obviously what I did was a mistake made and a lesson learned, and hopefully anyone that’s watched the video has also learned that lesson.”

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