From the soft rolling hills of the chalk downs, the dramatic white cliffs, the wildness of the Scottish Highlands, the evocative hills and mountains of the Lakes and the long history of Wessex, Britain’s countryside has brought so much inspiration to artists and writers. These places have given us famous poems and paintings, but were also the source of inspiration for men who gave us tourism, a farming revolution and a sense of the picturesque.
In this book Pavord roams from coast to coast, valley to mountain following the people who travelled by foot and horseback to bring us captivating accounts of locations that became culturally significant and are nowadays instantly recognizable. We get a brief overview of artist such as Turner and Constable, the poetry of Wordsworth and the writings of Hardy. The men who transformed our countryside played no less a part; the quintessential image of rolling fields, bordered by hedges was brought about by the enclosure of land, and loss of the commons from the peasants. It is breathtakingly beautiful, but at what cost.
What Pavord writes about with most passion though, is her part of the world; West Dorset. It is a land of hill forts and water meadows, ancient coasts and timeless landscapes. In her exploration of the world outside her backdoor, she considers the struggle – still – for common land access for people, the delights and horrors of golf courses, coppices rooks and the animal that has moulded this landscape so much, the sheep. Another passion of hers is the spring and autumn light; in this part of the world it can be delightful, bringing out the contrast in the strip lynchets* on the hills.
Pavord is an eloquent writer and for a lot of this book it shows. Her prose is captivating as she describes her patch. It is a shame, as she really has a grasp of the history of her part of Dorset and how it became what it is today. Pavord has a good grounding in the current issues that face rural communities in this modern age, to get the balance between accessibility and biodiversity whilst still maintaining the things that draw people to those locations. Good book overall, and in parts was really good, but I did feel that the book is let down by the section on art and artists. It feels like it was added after to fill it out which is a shame really.
Landskipping: Painters, Ploughmen and Places by Anna Pavord
1408868911|Bloomsbury hbk Jan 2016
*A lynchet is a bank of earth that builds up on the downslope of a field ploughed over a long period of time. The disturbed soil slips down the hillside to create a lynchet They are also referred to as strip lynchets. They are a feature of ancient field systems such as the Celtic field systems. www.geograph.org.uk
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