'Time is stitched into this landscape,' notes Anna Pavord in her latest book Landskipping - Painters, Ploughmen and Places, and I knew in an instant what she meant.
And this piece of advice, from artist Samuel Palmer in 1850, also seemed very pertinent indeed..
'We must take the trouble to map out and paint with different local colours arable land and garden which comes in every variety of rows and patterns.'
Here is a little corner of what has become fondly known as The TexTithe Project.
An approximation of the fields, meadows and orchards, the lane and the green lane around us here; a first attempt at translating the 1841 tithe map into fabric (more about it soon) and with Anna Pavord's suggestion that, where landscape is concerned, you need to be hooked rather than force fed came a real affinity with a book that slowly builds a landscape of its own and which I have relished. There could have been no better book for me to have been reading right now. Beating the Bounds is a project constantly in progress and I find myself looking in minute detail at a landscape whose basic shape has barely changed in hundreds of years ...except by me, who found and then lost a fabric orchard and routed the bias strip of green lane across a field by mistake.
I had already been thinking about the impact of the 1750-1850 Enclosure Acts, when common land available to all suddenly became the property of one person. As Anna Pavord elaborates, 4.5 million acres of open field was suddenly boundaried and interlaced with straight roads replacing centuries of old familiar tracks and trails. Freedoms were curtailed, livelihoods destroyed, old ways dismissed as irrelevant, traditions dismissed and dispersed and perhaps one of the legacies is this...
Tantalising isn't it, especially when you know it leads to one of the Duke of Bedford's old carriage drives created around the Endsleigh estate for his beloved Duchess Georgiana (she who lusted after the artist Landseer) in the early 1800s. This used to be the site of an old corn mill, if I climb up the bank I can just see the remains of the old mill ponds..
Now only used by 4x4s carrying 'guns' who have paid a lot of money to shoot pheasant, it half kills me not to leap over that gate I can tell you.
But imagine the impact of enclosure. Your familiar world disappears...not unlike the sense I had of a shifting landscape post-earthquake as we drove through Lyttleton and Sumner in New Zealand back in January. Little wonder everyone headed for the towns and cities in the England of the 1850s.
Rather than a big old resume of the book, I suspect I will be incorporating my thoughts on Landskipping into quite a few posts here, much as I did with Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways, because its themes have inspired me in all sorts of directions. My thinking has been gently marshalled and affirmed on what I like in 'landscape' and why, and how different we all are and that difference is fine, there is plenty to go round after all. I am definitely a rolling hills and valleys girl, maybe some mountains too.Send me to live by the sea and I might not like it... to begin with at least.
Anna Pavord outlines some fascinating history on our perceptions of landscape as mediated through painting and writing and I have emerged with a very long list of names to follow up in more depth. Some of the artists well-known to many of us... John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough but some less known (to me) John R Cozens, Thomas Girton and Richard Wilson, and likewise with the writers. I have a long list of reading to seek out.
But Anna Pavord talks about the stop-and-stare views too and it made me think about mine; the known landscapes that stir something deep and almost inexplicable.
Or the view from the windows of the summer house...
...there is one view that never fails to catch my breath. It is the glimpse of the valley as I reach the brow of the hill (usually in the car) before descending the other side and turning into our lane. It creeps up on me, no sign of it until suddenly there it is and I stopped purposely last week to take it all in.
As the land is worked so the fields take on a different emphasis throughout the year, currently it looks as if we have man-made lakes everywhere but no, 'tis the new-fangled bio-degradable plastic to encourage earlier germination. Disconcerting for a month or so..
With its emphasis on watching, and gleaning understanding from what is there, there is no pre-requirement to live in the countryside, or somewhere Very Landscapy and Picturesque to appreciate Landskipping. Living near a park or Common, or any open space, will be enough to trigger the thinking about what may have gone before and, if you live anywhere in the UK then I can highly recommend looking at the tithe map for your patch. I discover that original field names are often preserved in the street names and there I was thinking they pulled these odd names out of a hat.
So much more about Landskipping to come I am sure, but in the meantime as always, if you have read it I would love to know your thoughts...
And what about the landscape around you...
Does it reveal its past in unusual ways...
Do you have that Stop-and-Stare view ...
Does a Private-Keep-Out-No-Entry sign make you want to leap over a gate too..