Archive for April, 2017

On the Marshes

Here is a longer version of my column in the latest issue of the Countryman.

About a dozen years ago, when we were developing our 2026 Vision for the countryside, CPRE considered launching a prize for nature writing. There was not much of it about and that seemed a pity. But nature writing did not need a prize from CPRE. It has flourished, with a new book out every week. And I have to confess, I have developed an allergy to the genre.

Too much of it seems to be about the authors finding themselves, rather than about landscapes and the natural world. “I walked the hillside, intoxicated by nature’s bounty, and reflected that my mother had never understood me.” Bah!

Carol Donaldson’s new book, On the Marshes, mixes personal trauma with reflections on the landscape of north Kent and the people living in it. I could have done with less on her doomed relationship. I hope her hapless ex gets a right of reply. But in spite of a bit too much sharing for my tastes, I loved the book as I love the “rough edged beauty” of the Medway valley and the Thames estuary. It also helps that like all Little Toller books, it is beautifully produced. Continue reading ‘On the Marshes’

The Countryman and the countryside, 90 years on

Here is my column for the 90th anniversary issue of the Countryman. You can see the first issue of the magazine here – the editor’s introduction, with its brief history of Idbury is a joy.

An anniversary is a good time to look back, and in CPRE we did plenty of that when we celebrated our 90th in December last year. But it is also a time to look forward and the Countryman, for all its tendency to nostalgia (part of its enduring appeal) has always cared about the future, and the need to improve rural areas and the lives of country people.

Dipping into any old issue of the Countryman shows how life has changed. Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1948 essay, ‘I cook on oil’, gives a glimpse into what we would consider poverty, with water drawn from a well or collected from the roof (“only those who have had to carry water into the house and out again can appreciate the beatitude of a tap and a run-away”).

But Townsend Warner was not poor. Indeed, she was a freeholder, having paid £90 for her cottage (“it is neither picturesque nor convenient”) in Chaldon Herring, Dorset. The rural poor had it really tough. And they still do, though poverty is more hidden in rural than urban areas. Continue reading ‘The Countryman and the countryside, 90 years on’