Category Archives: England

The landscapes of Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious  (1903-42) is known for his watercolour landscapes of southern England, particularly those featuring the chalk figures of the South Downs.   He painted the stark figure of the Long Man of Wilmington, which we can see in its other-worldly dimensions through a barbed wire fence.  There is something idealistic about the painting, like an illustration from a children’s book, but this is undermined by the wire and overcast sky.  The English landscape is tamed and parcelled but not completely.  The figure, whose mystery is unsolved, remains unperturbed on the billowing downs, a connection with the past, reaching back through time.

Theories about the Long Man of Wilmington range from pre-historic fertility symbol to early 18th century folly.  Ravilious viewed it as a female figure opening the doors of death.

Kurt Jackson’s landscapes

I love the landscapes of Kurt Jackson. Of the above painting he notes “Evening and two choughs fly over the sea squeaking excitedly – my first Cornish choughs” from his exhibition The Cornish Crows. populated with jackdaws, magpies, choughs, ravens and crows.

More on Wikipedia on Kurt Jackson.

Winter walk in Cornwall

The purple double decker broke free of the housing estate and we were riding high above the hedgerows, surrounded by frozen white fields. We’d crossed the River Tamar on the Plymouth Torpoint ferry, watching from the top of the bus as Cornwall draw imperceptibly closer. And now the world suddenly opened out, with a dizzying vision of long rolling white waves.  This was Whitsand, where we planned to connect with the South West Coastal path and walk the Rame Peninsula.

The driver stopped for us and we stood dazzled, listening to the roar of the sea, and watched two tiny silhouettes walk in unison across the hard sand, each carrying a surf board. Off in the distance was the tip of the peninsula, crowned by the small silhouette of St. Michael’s chapel, our first destination.  The view reminded me of winter travels in the Mediterranean.  True, here there was frost on the grass, but the dazzling light engulfed us just the same.


Continue reading Winter walk in Cornwall

Poet climbs Scafell

In August 1802, poet, scholar and journalist Samuel Taylor Coleridge set off on a tough 9-day walking and climbing tour of the Lake District, which would include Scafell, the second highest peak in England.  It’s interesting to see how he went equipped. For a walking stick he dismantled a broom, to the annoyance of his wife. His knapsack was made of a square of green oilskin, closed by string, and inside

. . . he carried a spare shirt, stockings, cravat, and night-cap (which seems to have been Coleridge’s equivalent of a sleeping bag), together with paper twists of tea and sugar, his Notebook, and half a dozen quills with a portable inkwell.”  – Early Visions by Richard Holmes

Coleridge is said to be the first “outsider” to climb Scafell and his descent is hailed as the first ever recreational rock climb.  It was a memorable piece of improvisation. Threatened by an approaching storm, he chose a way down, without any idea of what lay below.  He found himself descending a series of ledges, a kind of giant’s staircase, known today as Broad Stand. As the ledges grew further apart, he lowered himself over them and let himself drop.  The succession of jolts soon “put my whole Limbs in a Tremble, and  . . . I began to suspect that I ought not to go on . . ” Continue reading Poet climbs Scafell

Wild places of Essex

In this intriguing documentary, based on his book The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane warns us not to write off over-developed and over-populated Britain in the quest for wilderness.  Wild nature is there under our noses, in the most unexpected of places, and Macfarlane helps us focus on it, just as his friend Roger Deakin opened his own eyes.

Essex was chosen as an apparently unlikely location to commune with nature. Condensing a year of exploration, the film shows startling beauty among sewage works and dual carriageways. The contrast is beguiling: a peregrine falcon soaring past Tilbury Power Station is the angelic and the toxic closing-up against one another. Continue reading Wild places of Essex

Most popular walk in Britain

A contender for this title is the 6-mile Bath Skyline walk, the most frequently downloaded trail from the National Trust webpage.  The National Trust owns 500 acres of land at the edge of the city, only a mile from the centre.  Safe from urban development, the land is a mix of woodland and meadows, rich in wildlife and flowers, with views of the famous Bath stone terraces in the valley below.

Record rainfall in the Lake District

The Guardian’s Country Diary has a vivid description of the recent torrential rain in the Lake District, which resulted in the catastrophic flooding of the Cockermouth area. Here’s an extract:

Sheets of precipitation ran off the waterlogged ground and into the becks and rivers, which stampeded downhill causing landslides and destroying bridges and collapsing embankments.  . . . few Lakeland valleys escaped. Waterfalls cascaded down crags, sweeping scree on to roads so that rocks litter the tarmac, some big enough to have smashed through drystone walls and leave gouges in the fellsides in their wake.

About 25 cm of rain fell in 24 hours, making it the wettest day ever recorded in Cumbria. This quantity is the equivalent of the rainfall usually experienced in the Southeast of England over 5-6 months. Newcastle University researchers have found that rainstorms in the UK have doubled in intensity over the last 40 years, due in part to increased water evaporation from warmer seas.

Taking the Corpse Road

One of the pleasures of walking is knowing the history of your path, why it exists and who walked there before.

The need for Corpse Roads disappeared centuries ago, though a few are still known by that name.  When population was low and villages were widely scattered, the nearest consecrated ground could be miles away, across harsh and inhospitable terrain.  Sometimes coffins had to be abandoned in blizzards, miles from anywhere.  When weather improved, they would be picked up and the journey resumed.   Coffin-bearing horses bolted with fright during storms, never to be seen again, but living on in legends and ghost stories. Continue reading Taking the Corpse Road

Husky trekking in the Yorkshire moors

With Pesky Husky Trekking you can become a musher for a day.  Instead of a sledge, you stand on a specially designed non-motorised scooter.  And instead of snow-covered arctic lands, the Siberian huskies whisk you through the Yorkshire countryside.  The experience is only available between October and March, after which it becomes too warm for an energetic husky.  You can start off on a practice lap or do a more advanced trek of up to two hours.

Sugar beet and the Pink-footed Geese

At first light, the sound of huge flocks of honking Pink-footed Geese fills the north Norfolk sky as they fly in from their roosts on the Wash. Back in the 1960s, wintering Pink-foots in the UK numbered about 50,000. Nowadays there are over 200,000 and about half of them are found in Norfolk. Continue reading Sugar beet and the Pink-footed Geese

Rambling on Kinder Scout


The 1932 mass trespass at Kinder Scout has passed into rambling legend and is seen as a milestone in the fight for the right to roam. Located in the north of the Derbyshire Peak District, and very close to the Manchester conurbation, this moorland plateau is of outstanding beauty, with views of Snowdon on a clear day and a 30-foot waterfall that the winds blow into the sky.

But 70 years ago, Kinder Scout was a private moor reserved for grouse shooting. And the famous demonstration, organised by the British Workers Sport Federation, was very much part of the 1930s class war. The confrontation with police and game keepers on the one side and a mixed group of communists, students and ramblers on the other resulted in scuffles, arrests and prison sentences. In his statement at the dock, Bernard Rothman, one of the organisers, argued their case: Continue reading Rambling on Kinder Scout

Whitby snakestones

Ammonites are easy to find on Whitby Beach, so fossil and curiosity dealers would try to attract customers by carving snake heads on the stones. It was a particularly tempting ploy in the Victorian age, when fossil collections and curiosity cabinets were all the rage.

The carvers were inspired by the legend of St Hilda, an abbess who lived in Whitby in the 7th century. The area was infested with snakes until she turned them all into “coils of stone”. Her work was completed by St Cuthbert of Lindesfarne, whose curse left the snakes headless. Continue reading Whitby snakestones

Rodborough Common: walking among orchids and butterflies

An airy place to stretch your legs, Rodborough Common is perched steeply over Stroud, on the edge of the Cotswolds.  Any time of the year is good for extensive views of the Severn estuary and Welsh mountains on the horizon, but spring to summer are best, as the carefully managed chalk grassland is a haven for butterflies and wild flowers.  Continue reading Rodborough Common: walking among orchids and butterflies

Wild Cornwall cottage

The Landmark Trust describe the location of their secluded granite cottage in strangely compelling terms – it’s for “those who worship the woods and the water and are prepared to be dominated by them.”  It sounds like a challenge, but suggests that those who allow themselves to be submerged in the exuberant Cornish nature will be richly rewarded. Frenchman’s Creek, made famous by Daphne Du Maurier, is a side creek of the Helford river, and its tidal ebb and flow are a constant reminder of the proximity of the sea.  More information