A Sense of Place

A Sense of Place

What is it that links landscape so closely with the human heart? We’re all aware of a ‘sense of place’ at times, but which is too deep for words.

A Sense of Place

As a youngster our grandson (above) loved kite flying on the South Downs in winter. This part of Sussex is a special place we’ve grown to love and respect and where we’ve gladly put down roots. If we moved away a large part of our heart would be left here. This is a sentiment shared by many other local people who watched the delightful BBC 4 documentary on the South Downs presented last year by Peter Owen-Jones. Peter,  vicar of three Downland parishes, expressed so well what so many of us feel about these beautiful downs.

Edward Thomas whose beloved place was around the South Downs in Hampshire, like so many other creative people, was tragically killed in France in the first World War.

“…the move to France was a move further south, but not to the south; the compass is not the index of the heart, and when standing at the entrance of his dugout, he looked north and saw, or dreamed he saw, Sussex with her gentle downs… Hampshire with her hangars of beech and yew…these dear places he was never to see again, never again…to seek the far horizon which bounded the south country and know the peace which only that could bring him.”

Quote from Helen Thomas the widow of Edward Thomas.

IMG_0530 - Copy
In the peaceful Shropshire Hills, Housman’s ‘place’.

A deep sense of place has influenced the creative work of many of the famous British writers, poets and painters. We think again of  Gilbert White of Selbourne, Wordsworth of the Lake District, John Clare of Helpston and Thomas Hardy of Wessex. Then there’s the Bronte sisters of Haworth on the grim but grand scenery of the Yorkshire Pennines and Tennyson of the Isle of Wight.  More recently we have Edward Elgar of Malvern, Albert Wainwright of the Lake District, Dylan Thomas in Wales and Nan Shepherd of the Cairngorms, whose book ‘The Living Mountain’ featured as a BBC documentary recently and whose image now appears on the Scottish £5 note.

‘Dedham across the flooded Stour’, © Zorba the Geek (cc-by-sa/2.0)        Creative Commons

Constable Country

John Constable spent much of his time painting his beloved Dedham Vale. He repeatedly added his ‘trade mark/signature’ in the shape of the tower of Dedham Church in the background.

Constable commented:

“…The sound of water escaping from mill dams,…willows, old rotten banks, slimy posts and brickwork. I love such things  ….As long as I  do paint I shall never cease to paint such places. They have always been my delight.. I should paint my own places best– painting is but another word for feeling. I associate my ‘careless boyhood’  to all that lies on the banks of the Stour. They made me a painter.”  Elsewhere speaking of his beloved Dedham Vale, he said: ” I love every stile and stump and lane in the village, as long as I hold a brush I shall never cease to paint them.”

These artists, writers, poets and musicians have all been inspired by their own landscapes. Travelling around where they lived and worked it’s not hard to see why.  It’s the landscape that has largely made them what they are. Perhaps, hopefully, our own landscape is beginning to ‘make’ us too!

A beautiful West Sussex lane
A lane in our favourite Arun Valley.

Our Own Place

“This is still the best place to do most things, to post a letter, to go for a walk, to buy a book, ..to stand on a hill and take in the view. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I like it here, I like it a lot, more than I can tell you.”   Bill Bryson speaking of his ‘sense of place’ about his ‘adopted’ Britain.

from ‘Notes from a Small Island’

A moment of peace by the river Arun, “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it” from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like it’.

When ‘all is hush’d and the heart listens’ we begin to see, hear and feel the landscape, it becomes part of us and we start to be shaped by it. John Claire’s delightful comment illustrates this. When asked where he found his poems he replied:

  ‘I found the poems in the fields.’

Thank you for your company

Enjoy the place where you live and tell us what’s special to you about it.

15 thoughts on “A Sense of Place

    1. Thank you for commenting. My visits to Lancashire have usually involved the wonderful Lake District. I must have missed much on the way there. I do enjoy your landscape photos. We’re so richly blessed with beautiful places in this country.


  1. A delightful read, Richard. It brought back some fond memories of those special places, and reminded me of the easy joy we find when in them. Yesterday, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border in the sodden marshes, the Angles Way. Not much to see because of the all day fog – but looming and then gone – the odd heron, the largest owl I have seen for a while, unseen cow pats, noisy hedgerow birds whizzing around as if playing, as if on adrenalin, six disinterested horses. Otherwise utter silence. The light in the marshes is extraordinary on days such as these…

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    1. Thank you for joining in the conversation with such a lovely description of your own beautiful ‘place’. I specially like your ‘easy joy’. It does us all good to hear about each other’s special ‘places’ and enjoy some of the ‘easy joy’ that’s to be found in them.


  2. The South Downs is such a beautiful part of the countryside; I can well understand you feeling very attached to it! I read Edward Thomas’s ‘The South Country’ a few months ago and his love for the place shone out of every page.
    I felt at home here in East Anglia as soon as I began visiting it with my parents when I was a girl. At first I intended living on the north Norfolk coast but I eventually settled here in north Suffolk mainly because my parents had moved here a year previously and I followed them after my first marriage broke up. When my present husband’s job sent him to Somerset in 2004 I was heartbroken as I believed I couldn’t cope away from Suffolk. I had rebuilt my life here and felt safe. I managed very well in fact, though at first I was extremely homesick. We moved back here much sooner than we had originally thought we would, after only 18 months away. I was so glad to be back!
    I love the wide skies and the strong exhilarating winds that blow. I love the gently rolling countryside in High Suffolk, the ‘Suffolk Pink’ washed cottages, the flint churches with their round or square towers, the coastline with it’s river estuaries and marshes, the wildlife and also the culture.

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    1. I’m glad you’ve read Edward Thomas. Many only know him for his poem ‘Adelstrop’. I spent three very happy years near Chelmsford and loved the Essex coastal marshes. Apart from an enjoyable holiday in Lowestoft and visits to Dedham, I don’t know Suffolk that well, but we have other friends who live there. It sounds a delightfully peaceful county to live in. We much appreciate your Suffolk posts and photos.

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  3. Thank you for this reminder Richard. I especially like the idea of our places “making” us; what a delightful thought! I didn’t grow up in Yorkshire, but I feel I have adopted it as my home now — or perhaps it’s adopted me? — because it is where I most feel the sense of place you describe: on the moors, in the dales, by the rivers, it is, to borrow a Shakespearism, “my home of love.”

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    1. Thanks Kylie. I was thinking of you and the moors and dales when working on this post. I must do a post on the moors theme sometime, though being a ‘southerner’ I’m more familiar with Dartmoor and Exmoor. It’s good to hear you are so at home in Yorkshire. I have enjoyed visits there in the past.

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      1. Thanks Richard, I’m chuffed! I’ve never been to Exmoor but have to Dartmoor — what an atmospheric place it is. I look forward to your future posts 😊

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  4. A wonderful evocation of your sense of place Richard and that of others who have come before and made places their inspiration. For me it’s the north east of England with our fabulous mix of coastline, country and layers of history.


    1. Thanks Andrea. As a lover of gardens and countryside I have also lived and worked in the inner city for several years. I specially value the beauty of many people’s lives, acts of kindness, warm and generous relationships in communities.
      I see with interest that you’re reading J.A. Baker’s ‘The Peregrine’. Robert Macfarlane enthuses about it. It’s on my ‘to read list’.


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