Country Views

Candida Lycett Green wrote a regular column and book reviews for Countryfile Magazine.

Click here for an index of Candida’s “Country Views” and other articles.

 


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 outside and having the freedom to explore. So I’m siding with the 99 percent of today’s school children who don’t want their six week long summer holidays to be shortened. I’m also pressing for government subsidized summer camps for urban children. >

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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 year housing supply. (They can’t do this because their Local Plan isn’t finalised). The floodgates are open. Not unnaturally, every landowner in Britain is applying for housing on disproportionately large acreages. Our next door village of Shrivenham is set to increase its population by 30 % through its current applications and objecting residents are powerless. Under the old planning policy, the man in the street had a fighting chance against mammon. Now he has none. Of course villages and towns should grow and evolve as they always have done but they should do so proportionately, with sensitivity to the surroundings and most importantly, democratically.  >

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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 way, are the cause of cancer. So now that I’ve got it back again after a fourteen year gap, I feel strongly that organic vegetables, preferably our own home grown, are more important than ever as a way of flooding my body with anti oxidants. >

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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 risen cream of all the milkiness of May-time.”

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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 road signs in the countryside may be unnecessary and that by removing them, road users are more likely to take notice of the important signs that remain. >

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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 devastating storms and floods across the centuries – in 1952, 34 people lost their lives in Lynmouth, and the following year 307 died and 40,000 were made homeless in the East Coast flood. >

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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; she maintained she achieved a lot more without them. Self sufficient until the end, gathering wood from the forest at the back of her cottage to feed her clomping great wood-burning stove, composting everything in sight and producing her own food, my mum also encouraged local, often unsettled youths to grow their own vegetables on her large plot.  Throughout her life she believed everyone should have the chance to be in touch with nature. >

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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 change of pace from a slow amble through some straggling hamlet to  the fast trot along a boring bit of road to the liberating gallop on top of  the downs. Besides, from a horse I can see over the hedge tops and sometimes a yellow hammer will follow along at eye level, settle a little ahead and as soon as we catch up, fly ahead again as though he is leading the way. I can also peer, often in awe and wonder, into front gardens along a village street. >

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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 cold winter mornings. Our remote downland village didn’t get electricity until I was ten years old and my brother twelve. Paraffin lamps and open fires were part of life and we walked from room to room in semi darkness. Then on Christmas Eve when the tree shone with myriad candles we had clipped on precipitously  among the glittering baubles the hall was suddenly full of  light – a thrilling and tremendous  cause for wonder.  >

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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 blood was in it/ Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for/Picking…”  But then suddenly the poems jolt you back to a sense of disappointment and disillusionment -  “ the rat- grey fungus” forming on the cache of blackberries,  the tiny tadpoles turned into “gross-bellied” frogs that unquestioning awe you feel as a child which, as you grow older, becomes clouded  by the realities and uncertainties of life. Perhaps for that reason Heaney, along with so many of our nature poets and writers, have such passionate attachments to the landscapes of their childhoods: the time when all was well with the world. >

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