The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. MARCEL PROUST

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

England: A Romantic View

The best way to enjoy England is on foot. And I often walk alone. But don't get me wrong! I'm no Billy-No-Mates. In fact I can be one of the most sociable and gregarious of people. At times. And at other times I seek out solitude. I'm happy with my own company. For me walking alone works perfectly. Anyhow you meets lots of people you can bond with along the way - fellow ramblers, hikers, countryside lovers. Walking solo you meet and talk to many more people than if you travel with a friend or in a group. Or so I find. And you can walk at your own pace, think your own thoughts, choose your own path. No arguments about where to go and how long to stay! On your own your senses are sharpened; you see more, and reflect more ...

History. Landscape. Literature. These are my three rune stones on my solitary journeys through England. Ted Hughes, in his poem Pike, writes of a fish pond's stilled, legendary depths, that it was as deep as England. Yes, England is deep. You only have to scratch the surface of England and it oozes history. Layers upon layers of history - Iron Age, Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Georgian, Victorian. Oral history. Written history. Imaginative and mythical history. Read The Making Of The English Landscape by W. G. Hoskins and you will discover that the English landscape is a palimpsest which has been written on endlessly - geologically, anthropologically, socially, architecturally, culturally, politically.

The history is the landscape. And the landscape is the history. I love so many of the landscapes of England - the grand hills of the Lake District where the Lakeland poets roamed, the big skies and bird-haunted coasts of East Anglia, the bleak, curlew-calling moorlands of the Pennines, the deep, hedgebanked lanes of Devon and Cornwall, the limestone caves and gorges of Derbyshire, the stone barns, drystone walls and hay meadows of the Yorkshire Dales ... So interesting, so various. It would take many lifetimes to reveal it all, to plumb its 'legendary depths'. Perhaps my favourite landscape is the ordinary, typical scene of patchwork fields surrounding a quintessentially English village - with its church and Wesleyan chapel, its village green and pub, its thatched cottages, duckpond and cricket field ... A romantic view of England, I know - but one that persists in my imagination.

And the shining stars of English Literature illuminate these landscapes. Isn't the Lake District made more emotionally real through the creative vision of William Wordsworth? Wouldn't the enclosed fields of Northamptonshire lose some of their sad resonance without the poetry of John Clare? Can you ever visit the heaths and henges of Dorset without recalling the novels of Thomas Hardy? Can Shropshire ever quite seem the same after reading AE Housman's description of 'those blue remembered hills'? Yes, the novels and poems of English writers are interwoven like a vivid dye through the rich tapestry of English history and English landscape.

Literature. Landscape. History. These are my gateways to understanding the ancient heart of this country called England. These are the reasons why I walk its countless paths.

(With thanks to www.guardian.co.uk/enjoy-england for inspiring this post.)

11 comments:

Philip Werner said...

The history is the landscape. Yes indeed. That is a great quote. I've just come home (US) from a week touring the borders area between Scotland and Rome and I completely understand.

Dominic Rivron said...

"a quintessentially English village - with its church and Wesleyan chapel, its village green and village pub, its thatched cottages, duckpond and cricket field..."

Do you know Jake Thackray's The Friggin' Brigadier?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Well, Solitary…I'm rendered near speechless by this—perhaps your finest post to date. So wonderfully written "…the big skies and bird-haunted coasts of East Anglia, the bleak, curlew-calling moorlands of the Pennines…" are just exquisite lines, magical and mood-evoking, as good as writing gets.

On top of which, the theme and content are smack on—absolutely right…from the reasons for sometimes walking solo, to the fact that England's "history is the landscape. And the landscape is the history." Unquestionably true. England is not merely a place, but a series of events, a tale of mankind told in many chapters that lie at the heart of the civilized world. England is the Mother Tree to so many, with roots extending far back in misty time, and branches reaching across every sea and continent.

History. Landscape. Literature. Gateway; runestone; solace, adventure, reason.

A wonderful, wonderful piece.

am said...

Long may you walk England's paths, solitary walker. Thanks always for telling your tales and posting your photos. They mean so much to me who's never been to England, but whose ancestors lived in England.

Rachel Fox said...

It's good to read you. My relationship with England is much more love/hate. You'll teach me to love it yet.
Ted Hughes been a bit of a theme this week...
x

The Weaver of Grass said...

Totally agree Robert. All these places are lovely anyway but knowing the authors/poets/painters associated with them certainly enhances each place. And it is not only places. Do you ever see a cherry tree in bloom without thinking of "Lovliest of trees the cherry now"?

willow said...

What a beautifully apropos post for a solitary walker.

Hi, just popping over from Weaver's blog.

Reader Wil said...

Hi Robert! Before I read your post, which is excellent, I had already written about England and its language and I was not surprised that I came to about the same conclusion you did!
What I have always thought, is that a country, its people, its language and its culture are unbreakably connected. They influence each other. Great Britain is one of the most interesting countries in the world, because it had been invaded by so many different cultures and peoples. There were the Celts, who were maybe the Aborigines of Britain, then came the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings and after William the Conqueror, who was a French Viking, a whole lot of French speaking kings, and when they finally spoke English, the Georges started a line of German speaking kings. All these people shaped Britain to the nation it is today. It is not strange that English has more words in its language than any other European language,and that has four times the amount of words there are in
the French, German,and Dutch languages.There are a lot of Viking words mixed with the existing Celtic, Latin , French and Saxon words. And yet they have all blended into one English language.
I thank you for your post! Weaver drew our attention to it!

Phoenix C. said...

I agree that walking alone one's senses are sharpened - and I always feel closer to the landscape on a solitary walk.

You've made me ponder what my 3 rune stones are, and I reckon they are History, Landscape and Art, (with Literature a close companion of Art). Thinking along this line, my way of seeing landscape has been very much influenced by John and Paul Nash's paintings, in particular John's 'The Cornfield', books by Rosemary Sutcliff read as a child and the art of Alfred Bestall. Nutwood is so quintessentially English village! And Bestall's deceptively simple images of the rolling hills and copses so beautifully embody the atmosphere of the landscape.

It's been good to reflect on this - thank you for your thought-provoking and beautiful post.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much for all these comments.

Dominic, that Jake Thackray song is friggin' brilliant!

Grace said...

Indeed! Just within my own family, way back when, who lived in England, there is much history, including a famous bear hunter, a reward from the Queen, and a protrait in the Buckingham palace--or so i'm told! (Ok, so that was all one person, but still interesting.)