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.)