Summer Holidays

summer holidays

The only thing I really looked forward to at school were the summer holidays. I admit that being brought up in a remote village was an advantage because all my friends were on the doorstep. As long as the eleven children at our school and I were back for meals, our parents didn’t worry about us – the surrounding downland, copses, barns and tracks were our playground. We were happy all through those languorous July and August days. I know I was lucky and looking back on it I think it had a lot to do with being . . . → Read More: Summer Holidays

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On Local Planning

Modern old-style housing in Poundbury The look is very traditional, but the date on the wall of the houses on the left is 1994.

Ours is the most geologically complicated country in the world. As a result the fabric and texture of our towns and villages is gloriously diverse and beautiful. Local building materials tell us where we are. From cob to half timbering, from the tone of a limestone to the shade the local brick. But these inimitable and distinct local characteristics are being wilfully eroded in the latest rush to build.

The present planning process is a fiasco. Among myriad others, our local Oxfordshire District Councils can’t refuse permission for new housing unless they can demonstrate that they have a deliverable five . . . → Read More: On Local Planning

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Seven a Day

Fruit_&_vegs_assortment

So we’ve all been given a rocket again about not eating enough fruit and vegetables. Apparently the University College London researchers concluded that risk of death by any cause was reduced by 42 percent for those eating seven portions or more a day. In early spring we began planting – lettuce, beans, peas, carrots, radishes and beetroot – with an extra zeal, not just because of the government warning but for all sorts of other reasons. I’ve always believed that the many chemicals with which we are helplessly imbued, even in the form of nitrogen or phosphate fertilizer drifting our . . . → Read More: Seven a Day

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In Praise of the Hawthorn

Hawthorn_blossom_-_geograph.org.uk_-_799885

Of all our native trees, the Hawthorn moves me the most. Perhaps that’s because, with its blossoming, it marks the shift between Spring and Summer and brings such a sudden surge of hope and beauty – the first real splendour of the hedgerows. Though its flowering time is never certain and it’s more likely to be out nearer the old May Day of the Gregorian Calendar, (which fell on the on 12th May), rather than the 1st of May – when it does finally bloom, “there is no uncertainty at all about it;” wrote HE Bates, “its flowers are the . . . → Read More: In Praise of the Hawthorn

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Notices

Footpath_sign_on_the_Ridgeway_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1371785

I’ve often wondered why ours is the first generation to need so many signs, explanations, labels, interpretation boards and notices wherever we go. If one sign appears, several more follow in their wake. They seem to breed like rabbits. There is a roundabout on the way to Stow on the Wold which has 53 different signs jostling for attention on its approach roads. Twenty years ago there were 12. As a result of research during their ongoing anti-rural clutter campaigns, The Council for the Preservation of Rural England in conjunction with the RAC Foundation found that around seventy percent of . . . → Read More: Notices

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The Weather

the weather

On 7th March 1786 at Selbourne in Hampshire, the naturalist Gilbert White noted , “Snow drifted over hedges and gates….Blackbirds and thrushes die….As Mr Ventris came from Faringdon, the drifted snow, being hard frozen, bore his weight up to the tops of the stiles.” White is accepting of the weather in a matter of fact way. Today we complain without end. It’s as though today’s weather is the worst it has ever been. In 1683-4 the Thames was frozen over for two months with ice almost a foot thick and the North Sea froze for miles out. We’ve also seen . . . → Read More: The Weather

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The Good Life: Living the Rural Dream

living the rural dream

If anyone lived “The Good Life” my mum did. The last twenty years of her life were spent without a car on a smallholding in a remote corner of Herefordshire. She used her pony and trap to drive down from the Black mountains into her nearest town for  shopping. Under her address, her writing paper read, “No Telephone Thank God”. A modern woman in many ways (she wrote travel books and myriad articles,  was a legendary cook and attended regular lessons on philosophy and nuclear physics), she had quite simply got fed up with machines and the trouble they brought; . . . → Read More: The Good Life: Living the Rural Dream

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By Horse

Vale of White Horse-20120621-00423

I am lazy by nature. I’ve always disliked walking further than I have to and the thought of climbing a steep hill fills me with dread.  In order to pursue my passion for exploring the landscape of England, the horse has long been my favourite vehicle.  I love a horse’s steady strength and the mutual trust which comes to the fore when  you steer him through the tangled undergrowth of a disused bridleway, up the precipitously rocky path at the top of the Long Mynd or through the knee deep mud of a Somerset hollow way. I like the easy . . . → Read More: By Horse

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Christmas

Christmas

I am making a heartfelt plea for a simple country Christmas.  The sort I used to have in my childhood – when all was well the world, the word ‘stress’ hadn’t been invented to describe a fraught mental state and my brother and I were happy to create paper chains indefinitely by licking the gum on the end of bits of coloured oblongs and sticking them into loops. It meant Christmas was approaching. I suppose our circumstances were romantic on the face of it although central heating wasn’t something we knew about and we could see our breath indoors on . . . → Read More: Christmas

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Seamus Heaney: "Death of a Naturalist”

SeamusHeaneyLowRes

When great writers such as Seamus Heaney die, the sense of loss is ameliorated by what they leave behind.  I returned to “Death of a Naturalist” and remembered how, in an instant, it brought back a child’s innocent wonder at the natural world.  Like him and countless other children I was riveted by “…the warm thick slobber/ Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water/In the shade of the banks …” and collecting,  “jampotfuls of the jellied/specks”. And also like him, I loved blackberry picking expeditions when, “…You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet/ Like thickened wine: summer’s . . . → Read More: Seamus Heaney: “Death of a Naturalist”

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