In this brief review of Anna Pavord’s book about celebrating the British landscape we look through the eyes of painters, ploughmen and rural writers at how we have viewed our countryside over the centuries and the importance of our own Local Place.
The British Landscape – From my Autumn Bookshelf.
‘Landskipping: Painters, Ploughmen and Places‘ by Anna Pavord.
I have always enjoyed Anna’s writing on garden topics and her stimulating views when interviewed. I was not disappointed with this book.
This is an engaging read, in her usual chatty style, full of heartfelt involvement with the places she has known. Reading this book stirred my own memories of much loved places in these beautiful islands.
She looks at the changing attitudes towards the landscape especially over the past 3 centuries. Moving from William Gilpin’s ideas of ‘picturesque’ landscape in the 17th century, to the ‘painter’s-eye-view’ of John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and Samuel Palmer. Then on to the down-to-earth ‘ploughman’s view’ of William Cobbett’s ‘Rural Rides’, focused on local people earning a living off the land. Not forgetting all the hardships of the country folk of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels.
Anna is sceptical of the typical modern tourist guide book, with listed ‘attractions’ laid out like a theme park, containing packaged ‘pockets of heritage experience’ to be visited, along with the essential gift shop, cafe and car parks. All to create that stage-managed ‘visitor experience’ and to bring in the cash! Dedham Vale in Suffolk is now ‘Constable Country’ while Dorset is ‘Thomas Hardy’s Wessex’ and we have ‘William Wordsworth’s Lakeland’.
Back in the hills of her adopted home county of Dorset (see the photo above) she writes with a true sense of rootedness and belonging. She speaks of being ‘hefted’ like the local sheep to the surrounding Dorset hills.
“The landscape is poised and still, holding its breath in the way that only happens in early autumn. It’s a dream time, there is an element of lottery about these gorgeous days of late September and October. Nothing can be taken for granted, this spell will soon be broken, but when? Each day of still richness might be the last. The sun lower in the sky now, throws long shadows ….
The landscape settles: soft, dreamy, half asleep, like a Samuel Palmer painting
…..Time is stitched into this landscape, but time is measured by different kinds of clock. Geologists’ millions of years, historians’ thousands of years, and farmers’ by the annual seasons that begin not January, but at Michaelmas when rents are paid, new leases ares drawn up and farms change hands”.
Our beautiful British landscape has always inspired rural writers and it is worth celebrating. It inspires me too. I greatly enjoyed Anna’s book and highly recommend it. Published by Bloomsbury (February 2017)
Join me for my next post – ‘Secrets of the Meadow gateway’. I have slipped this short one in as an ‘extra’.