And finally… ‘For gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive … than the fumes of charcoal.’

Two wealthy couples who have spent half a million pounds battling it out in court over a “few feet” of muddy ditch between their properties have been admonished by judges for their “absurd” waste of money.

The couples’ dispute concerns a drainage ditch that runs alongside a bridle path between their houses in Cheshire.

Judges have recognised one couple as having sole ownership while the other has a right to limited use of the lane.

However, they described the legal battle as “Dickensian” and criticised the fact it had lasted longer than some murder trials.

In the initial case in 2013 Richard Gilks and his wife Heidi were successful in establishing their ownership of the ditch and half of the adjoining track running next to the five-acre property.

But neighbours Adrian Hodgson and his wife Joanne appealed the decision, fearing the welfare of the alpacas and wallabies they breed.

Judges have now ruled that the disputed track is entirely within their boundary but said the Gilkses have the right to drive vehicles along the path in a single direction, solely for agricultural purposes.

Sir Stanley Burnton called the dispute “depressingly unfortunate” and said: “The costs so far approach half a million pounds, far more that the value of the rights involved.”

Lord Justice Christopher Clarke described the affair as an “absurd waste of effort”.

Lord Justice Bean added: ‘I only add how dismayed I have been by this Dickensian litigation’.

“The disputed strip of land and right of way do not constitute the sole means of access to anyone’s home.

“At a time when the courts are under great pressure, the battle between these two couples took up 10 days of court time - more than some murder trials - before Judge Armitage and three days in the Court of Appeal.

“About half a million has been spent in costs – it is as though…civil procedure reformers over the years have laboured in vain.”

Lord Justice Clarke said: “The enmity of the parties has caused them to incur costs and to use up the time of the courts, to the detriment of other litigants, to an extent grossly disproportionate to what was at stake.

“If parties, or one of them, insist on litigating in this way, it is difficult for the court to cut short their wasteful endeavours, however much it may try to do so.

“I hope that the example of this litigation may encourage others who are concerned in like disputes…to take every step that they can to avoid the absurd waste of effort, time and cost, for both parties, which this case has involved.”

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