What makes the countryside different?

Here is my column from the July issue of the Countryman, available by subscription or in all good newsagents.

“Sex and death! That’s what the countryside is really about.” So said Macdonald Hastings, broadcaster and editor, in the 1950s’ of Country Fair, ‘a monthly journal of the open air’.

His son, Sir Max Hastings, used to quote these words with relish as CPRE President, railing against the prettification of the countryside – townees settling in villages and complaining about the cockerel or the mud left by tractors; the district council’s sign by the village pond: ‘Warning. Risk of drowning.’ The countryside, Max was saying, is not the same as the town. We should treasure the differences.

Maintaining the physical difference between town and country was one of the things that brought CPRE into existence in 1926 – the idea that it should be obvious (as it is not in many countries) when one has left one and entered the other. The physical separation between town and country remains important, but what of other distinctions?

We live in an age of mass culture and country people are not obviously different in their attitudes and hobbies from those in towns. A ‘village fair’ in an upmarket part of London might involve folk music and local food; the Open Farm Sunday event I attended in Kent served up supermarket burgers and some awful amplified racket (possibly hip-hop, possibly not) which made me feel like my father (‘bloody racket’).

In Craig Taylor’s Return to Akenfield, Ronald Blythe reflects on the change since he wrote Akenfield in 1969. ‘People don’t look at the fields now…. They do other things now… It’s just modern life. Nor do they know much about what’s growing. Some people now live in the middle of a village but seem to take no part in it. They’re living urban lives in the countryside.’

For all that, Taylor’s book includes plenty of distinctively rural characters, including a couple of 17 year old horticulture students whose clothes are ‘only lightly touched by current teen fashions’, one of whom keeps a picture of his refurbished tractor on his mobile phone.

And even if urban and rural people are becoming more alike, in all sort of ways the countryside is different. One of the things that makes it so is its tranquillity. This does not mean that the countryside is silent; nature is not silent and nor are people, wherever they live. Nor does it mean there are no houses or farm buildings. But rural tranquillity does imply the absence of constant discordant noise (the background hum of a road) and visual disturbance (floodlights blotting out the night sky). You should know you are in the country because it is more tranquil.

CPRE wants local authorities to identify and protect areas of tranquillity, as they are required to do by planning policy. And to help them, our website has an interactive tranquillity map of England. It is, though, just a guide. I am sure the farm I visited in Kent is fairly tranquil, most of the time.

1 Response to “What makes the countryside different?”


  1. 1 Andrew Needham July 5, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Have passed this and the tranquillity map to Peel Holdings re Atlantic Gateway.

    ”If anywhere in the UK can develop the critical mass and momentum to become an alternative growth pole to London, it is Atlantic Gateway”. Lord Heseltine

    Manchester and Liverpool were at the epicentre of the world’s first Industrial Revolution. Now they are leaders in the transformation from grey to green.

    ‘Atlantic Gateway Parklands – the Landscape for Prosperity’ sets out the vision and ambition to make places investable and liveable through an exceptional environment.


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