Crowded countryside

In his book Field Work Ronald Blythe has an essay about the paths in the countryside that the poet John Clare would have walked, and Blythe makes the observation (that he also makes elsewhere) that in Clare’s day the fields would have been teeming with activity and with people, and that going for a walk on a country path would not mean solitude, but would mean meeting up with neighbours who were on their way to work, or who if they weren’t on their way to work, would be out for a Sunday family stroll, or would be travelling to friends’ houses, or would be “courting”. There would have been children climbing trees. And then there was the craze for botanizing in the 19th C…


We often think of the past as a less populated country, but what Blythe tells us is that at least in agricultural areas (as opposed to the areas of truly wild forest) the countryside was a far less solitary and peaceful place than it is today. And there are of course parallels in the way our suburbs have changed due to the omnipotence of the car, and the way our houses have become little (or not so little) universes. There are no kids out playing cricket on our street.


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