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.

 


Renewable landscapes

Westmill_Wind_Farm

Victorian ruralists probably wept as they watched the rapacious tentacles of industry reaching out across the landscape in the form of railways, canals and factories. We forget what visual onslaughts our forbears put up with, and adjusted to. A lot of the pre Raphaelites pretended it wasn’t happening and retired to medieval houses looking onto pastoral Cotswold valleys. I like to think I’m more of a realist. Over the years I ‘ve managed to accept pylons as part of our landscape furniture and to edit them out of my line of vision – as though they are just lines across the page.

Because of the vastness of their setting, I found the collection of 3100 giant wind turbines on the edge of Palm Springs, California easy to accept aesthetically but  I’m still finding our local windfarm, towering over a patchwork of small farms and villages in the vale, hard to love. It’s the height of it which so demeans and almost ridicules the landscape around it. But it’s there; it’s producing a small amount of renewable energy and in time I will learn to notice it less. >

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British Farming

British farming - friesian cows

Since our Neolithic ancestors began farming these islands nearly ten thousand years ago our agricultural methods have gradually evolved – and with them, the look of the landscape. There is evidence all around here of early farmers from terraced strip lynchetts cut into downland slopes to undulating ridge and furrow fields in the vale. Medieval monasteries left noble farm buildings behind them such as Great Coxwell Tythe Barn (my favourite building in Britain), and the on-going enclosure acts, saw a virtual elimination of commonly owned land and the creation of patchwork fields. These changes took place over long periods of time and the way our forbears farmed the land was in total harmony with nature. >

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Verges

verges

As usual they’ve been slaughtering the verges far too early round here.  I have been seething with rage at the Oxfordshire County Council who are in charge of all our road verges, major and minor. Frustratingly, while all set to wage war, I have been unable to  find anyone to fight with. I called the Council Highways department four times over a period of several days and asked the same question: “Who creates our verge cutting policy?” I was repeatedly told that someone would ring me back.  The buck was passed to different departments. Eventually, after my fifth call, I was told that my question needed to be addressed to the Freedom of Information department by letter or email. I emailed. No reaction.  After three days I sent the email again. The reply, copied in to the ‘Corporate Core’, read, “This email is to confirm that your email was received and has been logged accordingly. You will hear shortly from the directorate co-ordinator with a formal acknowledgement of your request which will also provide the date by which you can expect a response.” I feel like a helpless victim in an episode of The Job Lot. >

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Not the Cotswolds Again

Arlington_Row_Bibury-_geograph.org.uk_-_22434

Please don’t show me another picture of a perfect, sunlit landscape in the Lake district or Snowdonia. They are not the only beautiful areas in Britain: there are myriad others – unnoticed and unsung. The Eden valley for instance is England’s answer to Arcadia and Appleby a kind of heaven compared to Windermere. The Lincolnshire Wolds are empty and ravishing while Louth could hardly be a more wonderful market town from which to explore our least visited county of all. >

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Flaming June

Meadow_flowers_-_geograph.org.uk_-_878028

June is my top most month. Though May bursts with promise and anticipation, June actually delivers.   For me the flowering of the elder on the back lane up towards White Horse Hill heralds the summer proper.  Then come the delicate creamy saucers on the wayfarers’ trees, the spires of dog roses arching from hedgerows;  the  Meadow cranesbill splashing  blue and the campion pink among the dusty hog weed flowers on roadside banks; the trees still a fresh, luminous green and, where the chemical drift from crop spraying cannot reach, the wild flowers in glorious explosions. >

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Horsemeat

Horsemeat_platter

Man’s unerring bond with the horse lasted for thousands of years. The interdependence, trust and understanding between us and them was absolute.  Then suddenly, with the coming of steam power and the internal combustion engine, we no longer needed them.  Our great grandfathers sold their driving  horses, carts and carriages and bought motor cars instead; they sold their heavy  horses on the farms and bought tractors. Smithies all over the country became garages; stables were converted into houses; carriage lamps were sold as front door lights at exorbitant prices and horse brasses were stripped off working harnesses and hung up in pubs. The horse’s vital role in our everyday lives was gradually forgotten. >

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Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea Flower Show

I first went to the Chelsea Flower Show on a blazing hot day forty years ago.  I was wearing a wide brimmed hat and posh frock on the instruction of the Chelsea aficionado who took me and had only accepted his invitation because, as an outsider, I was curious about the reverence in which the show was held. I knew nothing, but having a pocket handkerchief sized garden in a decaying area of Notting Hill, I felt I might get ideas for improving it.  I will never forget the thrill I got when I first walked into the main tent and was hit by a dazzling blast of electric blue from a display of what appeared to be several thousand delphiniums. It was like a wonderful exploding firework. I was hooked. On every subsequent visit to the show I have felt that same level of excitement.  The atmosphere is exhilarating and everybody  is set  to enjoy themselves. For gardeners, the Chelsea Flower Show is a chance to see the best of the best. It’s like Royal Ascot is  for racing enthusiasts, where the  best flat horses in the world  are gathered in one place; or Wimbledon is for tennis buffs. >

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Waterways

Waterways

The other day I met a couple at Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire who had just arrived by boat from Weybridge in Surrey. I couldn’t fathom how they had done it. Their cruiser was moored on the river Nene, which snakes through sheep scattered meadows just beyond the village, on its way towards the Wash. They told me they had chosen the most direct route possible. This involved going down the Thames to the Grand Union Canal, up to Northampton, down the Great Ouse to Downham Market, along Middle Level into the Lincolnshire fens to meet the Nene and from there, upstream to Fotheringhay. Their journey had taken three weeks. >

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Locked Gates

Locked gates

I love my local landscape. Its familiarity is comforting and even though these surrounding fields, hills and woods don’t actually belong to me, I feel I belong to them.    Over the last decade however I have begun to feel a little shut out – as though our countryside is being increasingly “ privatized. Arable field gates which used to lie open all year round are now chained up and padlocked. Even though there may be no rights of way across a particular field, nonetheless, the “ locked-up” look of things has diminished the suggestion of freedom and openness. There is a change of atmosphere. The track leading up to Hardwell Copse for instance, where the farmer never minded if I walked, has been shut off for three years now. Down on the levels of the vale it seems there is a war on and these defences are apparently in place against illegal hare coursers. The wide stretches of stubble (farmers are now subsidized to leave it as a winter food resource for birds) has become  irresistible coursing terrain to a few lawless, lurcher- and whippet – owning gangs in four by fours. >

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Nimbyism

Nimbyism_Wind_farm

Nimbyism is a complex moral issue.

My next door neighbour stopped me in the street and said, “We’ve got to stop it.” “Got to Stop what?” I asked. “The new house they want to build  across the stream.” I was incensed at her assumption that I was a nimby. We live in a village and villages have evolved since time immemorial.  I don’t believe they should be put in aspic and those that have been, like Laycock in Wiltshire for instance, feel vaguely unreal in their perfect prettiness. As long as the new housing in our village is of the right scale, built in the right materials and, if it is a larger project, provides the necessary proportion of affordable houses, then  I have no reason to object. However, if the character of our village was threatened by, say, a disproportionately huge housing estate with computer generated plots to ensure the maximum amount of bland houses packed into the smallest space, I would doubtless shout from the rooftops. So I’ve already revealed myself as  a potential hypocrite, but then nimbyism is  a complex moral issue. >

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