Where to get soul satisfaction
THE late Robin Ferrers, long the doyen of the House of Lords and countryman extraordinaire, was determined on celebrating everything. From special birthdays to an unexpected guest or simply a particularly beautiful sunset, he would seize on any excuse to raise a toast or throw a party. It meant that, even on the darkest days, he would find something to lift the heart. He’d never allow the uncertainties or even horrors of life to get him down. It was all about proportion, counting your blessings and, above all, celebrating them.
That’s not a bad assessment of the genius of COUNTRY LIFE—120 years of celebrating the best in the countryside: its landscape and its architecture, its people, its animals and its agriculture. Of course, the magazine hasn’t shirked from warning when rural life is threatened or when urban institutions and governments fail to understand, but its essence lies in enthusiasm and praise for the English countryside.
As Agromenes takes stock, looking out over the fields and woods, down to the river on an utterly beautiful spring day, the word that sums it all up is joy. Oh, I know there’s grass to be cut and a gate that needs mending; inside, there’s paperwork still to be finished and a couple of tough decisions to be made, but, for the moment, I’m celebrating.
The English countryside takes your breath away. It hasn’t the drama of high peaks or the luxuriance of great tropical forests. Even its wildness is controlled—confined to those places that we human beings choose—yet for sheer beauty—the subtle shades of green, the white and pink of the blossom, the ordered furrows and the dappled shade—this is the scene that wins over drama and luxuriance every time. It’s what Robert Browning caught in Home Thoughts, From Abroad when, in the heat of the Mediterranean sun, he remembers: ‘The buttercups, the little children’s dower/far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!’
Browning captured that essential element of Englishness. If the English are not naturally gaudy, it’s because the shades of our countryside are so restrained. Passion and vendetta we leave to more dramatic climes, where colours contrast and shout. Here, you have to look hard to see the beauty of the natural world.
‘Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,/grass and green world all together;/star-eyed strawberry breasted, throstle above her nested,/cluster of bugle blue eggs thin,/forms and warms the life within’: it is through the detail of observation that another poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, brings the English countryside to life. It doesn’t shout. To appreciate it fully, you have to look carefully and listen attentively.
This countryside is supremely satisfying to the soul. This is a landscape that English history has formed, farmed and husbanded for centuries. It is human collaboration with creation in which buildings and walls, hedges and ditches play an essential part. A medieval church, a Victorian folly, even some angular modern turbines—all are integral to the rural scene that so delights and satisfies.
It is this, and the life and livelihoods it sustains, that COUNTRY LIFE has chronicled for 12 decades. Increasingly threatened by invasive development, greedy monoculture and uncomprehending urban attitudes, the English countryside needs its advocate more than ever. As Britain tries to work out its future in Europe and struggles with extremism and economic challenge, the voice and values of the countryside will be increasingly important. COUNTRY LIFE is therefore not just a chronicle for country people in a turbulent and confusing world, its essential role is to enable Britain to understand its real self.
‘The English countryside doesn’t shout. You have to look carefully and listen attentively