To truly ex­pe­ri­ence the plea­sures of a sum­mer pic­nic, step away from the car

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Il­lus­tra­tion: Lynn Hatz­ius

Your car has no place at the pic­nic blan­ket, says Sara Mait­land.

It is pic­nic time again. Per­haps be­cause our sum­mers are short and un­re­li­able, per­haps be­cause ex­er­cise makes me hun­grier, per­haps be­cause of mem­o­ries of happy child­hood ad­ven­tures – but for what­ever rea­son, I love eat­ing out of doors.

The OED de­fines ‘pic­nic’ as “an oc­ca­sion when a packed meal is eaten out­doors, es­pe­cially dur­ing an out­ing to the coun­try­side”. The English lan­guage demon­strates that it is a plea­sur­able event by us­ing the neg­a­tive metaphor ‘no pic­nic’ to de­scribe events that are not en­joy­able.

De­spite the Bri­tish fond­ness for pic­nics, it was orig­i­nally a French word, ‘pique-nique’, in­tro­duced in Bri­tain in 1748 by Lord Ch­ester­field in a let­ter, although it did not be­come com­mon in the UK un­til af­ter 1800, when ur­ban­i­sa­tion made trips into the coun­try­side a new sort of treat, and when the Ro­man­tic Move­ment en­cour­aged a new en­thu­si­asm for both the out­doors and in­for­mal­ity.

The word may be new (newish) but the ac­tiv­ity is far more an­cient. In 1528, the monks of But­ley Abbey in Suf­folk were vis­ited by the Queen of France. They took her to Staver­ton Thicks – still one of the most mag­i­cal an­cient oak woods in Eng­land – where they ate a meal sub quer­cubus (un­der the oak trees) cum Joco et Ludo (lit­er­ally, with fun and games). The monk-chron­i­cler even records that it was all satis

ju­cundis (great fun). Now that sounds like a pic­nic to me.


But please note, they had their pic­nic un­der the oak trees, not in a lay-by on the road, nearer to their car than to any tree. I am to­tally mystified by this bizarre Bri­tish habit. We pack our food in ham­pers and we drive – prob­a­bly at some ex­pense of both time and money – into the sunny, lovely coun­try­side, of­ten head­ing to no­tably beau­ti­ful places. And then we park, usu­ally right beside the road, and eat our food there. Af­ter that we get back in our cars and drive home. Some fa­mous beauty spots, I dis­cover, even pro­vide pic­nic ta­bles in their car parks! It does seem very odd to choose to eat in one of the most pol­luted ar­eas in the whole coun­try­side – with other cars com­ing and go­ing in low gears. It seems even worse than get­ting sand in your sand­wiches, which is al­ways a haz­ard with beach pic­nics. Of course there are the frail, the el­derly and the dis­abled, for whom such a pic­nic is not sim­ply a joy but pos­si­bly the best or only way that they can ac­cess the coun­try­side and it will make them happy and be good for them. There will be hur­ried peo­ple on long jour­neys, who just want a lit­tle break and some­thing to eat. But that does not ex­plain a cou­ple with three young chil­dren sit­ting around a rug less than 20m from their car, ar­ranged so that all the chil­dren are fac­ing away from the view to­wards the ve­hi­cle. No won­der they grow up com­plain­ing that the coun­try­side is bor­ing.

Be bold. Stop beside a gate into a grassy field (check for bulls if you need to) or where a lit­tle path leads down to a lake­side or deep into a wood. Leave any very heavy pic­nic gear in the boot and walk at least un­til you can­not see the road or the car. Then look for a lovely place to set­tle down and eat. One day soon you may find the per­fect pic­nic spot – on the top of a high hill with the huge green view be­low you or on a de­serted beach with lit­tle is­lands danc­ing out on the sea. And I bet it will be much more satis ju­cundis than the lay-by. Have your say What do you think about the is­sues raised here? Write to the ad­dress on page 3 or email ed­i­tor@coun­try­

Sara Mait­land is a writer who lives in Dum­fries and Gal­loway. Her works in­clude A Book of Si­lence and Gos­sip from the For­est.

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