Category Archives: History of the British landscape

Orwell in Spring

Spring has finally arrived to George Orwell back in 1940 . This entry is from 1st April:

Strong wind, which has dried the soil greatly, but beautiful spring weather in the morning. In the evening overcast, but no rain. Violets out in great numbers everywhere. Larks singing, the first I have heard this year, though most years one hears them much earlier than this. Partridges pairing, rooks & seagulls not yet. A few tulips forming heads. Arabis well out. Note that a few of the carrots I left in the ground were not destroyed by the frost, though most went to mush.

Sowed broad beans, & some in box to fill up gaps. Cleared the ground where peas & parsnips are to go. Dug a little more.

17 eggs.

From the excellent Orwell Diaries

Fictional countryside

Interesting article by Jonathan Meades in The Guardian.

No longer a place of work, the English countryside has been tidied up and made picturesque, based on a mythical rural idyll…Read

Reminds me of DH Auden comment in the 1940s on the Lake District.

“Am I to see in the Lake District, then….Another bourgeois invention like the piano?”

New Forest conservation

A new generation of commoners will receive financial support to ensure animals continue to graze in the New Forest and so conserve its rich biodiversity.

Commoning has shaped the New Forest over hundreds of years. It is because of it that we have this beautiful landscape, a mosaic of pasture, heath and lawn. And it needs to be encouraged – Lyndsey Stride, commoner.


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

Protecting Queen Victoria’s sensibilities

When Queen Victoria was visiting the Cairngorms of Scotland, she asked her guide to translate the name of a mountain, Bod an Deamhain.  “The Devil’s Point”, he replied, in effect rechristening it, since a truer translation of the Scottish Gaelic would be “Penis of the demon”.

Queen Victoria’s travels around Britain led to other toponymic changes.  When she visited the spectacular cave in the Peak District, known locally as the Devil’s Arse due to the flatulent sounds heard there, she was informed it was called the Peak Cavern.  Over a hundred years later, the original name is officially being used again.

Photo of the Devil’s Point from

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

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

Canals: corridors of wildlife and the slow-life


The designers of Britain’s canals, built to haul coal and lumber, or fragile goods when roads were still rough, would have been flabbergasted to see how their engineering efforts are valued today, not for industrial purposes, but for giving folk a respite from urban stresses or for bringing kingfishers into city centres. Continue reading Canals: corridors of wildlife and the slow-life

How did the Needles get their name?

The western tip of the Isle of Wight peters out in a series of three jagged rocks known as the Needles.  You might think they owe their name to their sharp edges but it turns out there used to be a fourth, needle-shaped, rock called Lot’s wife, as shown in Isaac Taylor’s map of Hampshire published in 1759.  Continue reading How did the Needles get their name?

The lost Doggerland

Doggerland is the name given to the vast area that until ten thousand years ago linked the British Isles with Denmark and Northern Germany, a time, Little Britain Eurosceptics please note,  when the Thames was a tributary of the Rhine. Then the ices waned and the inhabited hills, plains, valleys and  forests were flooded. I came across Doggerland listening to this facinating BBC radio 4 documenary. It explores a land lost beneath the waves near Craster on the Northumbrian coast with the help of archaeologists, locals and a storyteller who tells a possible creation myth dating from the 10,000 years ago, as the lands were engulfed. Continue reading The lost Doggerland

Abandoned villages in the UK

This site on Abandoned Communities in Britain is fascinating and poignant. Since the Middle Ages thousands of towns, villages, and other human communities in Great Britain have been abandoned. Often the settlement was abandoned because of economic and social changes, but sometimes also due to the forces of nature. Many tell a tragic story. The web “commemorates all abandoned communities” through text, photos, paintings and poetry.

Nettles and ancient human habitation

Stinging nettles can give away secrets of our past. They have a strong association with human habitation and buildings. This is because our waste of refuse, ash and bones is rich in phosphate, which then builds up in the soil, and Continue reading Nettles and ancient human habitation