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The Countryside, naturally

One of the most enjoyable things for me about living in the UK and being able to walk pretty much anywhere and – aside from a few hills – do so with a minimum of preparation (never good to be without a waterproof, some water and emergency nuts, but beyond that you normally do not have to go). As was pointed out to me recently there is also little danger of running into any dangerous beasts, although I would be careful of wild boar in the Forest of Dean and at the wrong time of year you could get at least a hard stare from a stag. Usually the most dangerous animal you come across in the British countryside is a farmer’s dog. Although they certainly should not be messed with, the only times I have felt threatened by a dog in adult years has been from working dogs and farmers views on walkers across their land can be variable, although providing you keep to the rights of way on the whole I have had more positive experiences and no one has come after me with a shotgun bellowing ‘ARRRR… Get off me land!!’ yet, although there is always a first time I guess.

 The countryside is an endless source of fascination for me. As anyone who has mistakenly read any of these things before will know, being out and observing nature is a particular pleasure for me and even doing walks you have done many times before always has the opportunity to throw something at you, whether that be startled deer, a fox vanishing into the bushes just as you come around a corner or a cloud of meadow brown butterflies (there seem to be a lot of these particular species around this year, which is no bad thing). But the other thing is that you cannot walk far in the UK before finding something interesting. It might be an earthwork, or a nice cottage or a Second World War pill box, but the countryside is literally covered in things to look at. Because there are only tiny parts of the country where the hand of man is not present, very, very few places indeed.

 It made me laugh some years ago when there are suggestions that places should be put back to their ‘natural’ state. Most places in the UK have not seen its ‘natural’ state for a few thousand years at least, as this part of the country has been continually occupied since at least the Iron Age. There are very few bits of our countryside that are in a truly original state, and even in some of our national parks, looking a bit more carefully you see the old abandoned quarries, the cairns and manmade earthworks, never mind that those rolling grassy hills were originally forest. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are definitely places where there is a compelling argument to put back the type of terrain that was there originally, whether that be restoring wetlands or re-planting forests; but that is a conscious choice and the modification requires our input and planning.

If I want wilderness there are parts of the world where you can still find it if you want to make the effort. But while thinking about this I have realised that the reason I love the countryside here so much is that it melds in a very unique way two things that motivate me – nature and heritage. The two are combined in the landscape in both obvious and more subtle ways. But it is this impact that our ancestors have had and that we continue to have on the landscape that is just fascinating. Even from your armchair, looking at the larger scale Ordinance Survey maps, you can see so much. One of the things I really enjoy about holidaying in the UK is to look at the map where we are staying and try and unravel the story it is telling me, from the shape of streets, the position of the church and its relationship to some abandoned village (probably flattened by the local landowner to improve the view…) endless fun to be had with a little imagination. And it can help you avoid getting lost.


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