“Nothing – and I mean, really, absolutely nothing – is more extraordinary in Britain than the beauty of the countryside” – Why Bill Bryson loves walking in the British countryside and why you might too
I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading Bill Bryson’s latest travel book The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island and came across the above sentiment. As an ardent promoter of the British countryside, it was of course lovely to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought this, but as I am perhaps a little biased, it got me onto thinking is Bryson right, and if so, what is it that makes the British countryside so very, very wonderful?
It is in fact a question I’ve found myself reflecting on quite a lot recently, as following a long trip to north America during which I discovered more extraordinarily beautiful scenery in its national parks than I thought existed in the world, I found myself still marvelling at the beauty of the modest British countryside. The scene that sparked this thought was not a particularly unique one – in fact it was outside of my kitchen window in Somerset – but with its rolling green hills divided by neat hedgerows, a sprinkling of farmhouses and a flock of sheep with their young lambs, it was undoubtedly beautiful. And here comes Bill Bryson’s argument as to why British beauty is so extraordinary – it doesn’t feature snow capped alpine peaks or dramatic gorges or thundering rivers, yet it has somehow been perfectly arranged to create the most marvellous, charming unassumingly beautiful landscape around.
Let’s take the Cotswolds as a prime example of this understated beauty. The Cotswolds are located in the centre of southern England – they are not near any spectacular coastline nor do they feature any large mountains, lakes or rock formations, indeed the land is fairly flat. They are also located in one of the more populated areas of the UK, and so have the impact of human habitation. Yet, year on year, thousands of visitors worldwide come to appreciate the beauty of the landscape there. Perfect honey stoned villages with their distinctive thatched roofs, golden hills gently rolling out into the distance and easy flowing rivers dominate this scenery, which can be readily enjoyed by walkers on its miles of undisturbed footpaths. If you had the opportunity of recreating the Cotswolds to make it more beautiful, I really don’t think you could.
For me though, the thing that really makes the beauty of the British landscape so extraordinary is that it’s not hard to find. In fact it is literally sitting on most people’s doorsteps. We have nearly 150,000 miles of public footpaths covering the length and breadth of Britain, which means that there is barely a corner of the country that hasn’t been judged as worthy of getting your boots on and having an explore. If that’s not a marker of some extraordinary beauty, then I’m not sure what is!
The final element that makes the British countryside so special is its variety. Every time I embark on a new walking trip in the UK I marvel at the fact that here is yet another spectacular corner of the country that I haven’t seen before, and that best of all, it is all so different. Perhaps it is because we are really a very small country, but in that space we have the most remarkable range of landscapes. As well as the charming hills of southern England, there are the dramatic peaks and lochs of the Scottish highlands, and the craggy, stark mountains of north Wales. Head to the north of England and you’ll get a range of new landscapes again, enormous glacial lakes to the east in Cumbria and expansive moors to the west in Yorkshire. Then of course there is the coastline, beautiful sandy beaches in Wales, ancient Jurassic cliffs on the south coast and wild windswept coves in Scotland. The list could go on and on, but one thing is for sure, you’ll be walking a long time before you run out of choices.
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Bill Bryson’s Road to Little Dribbling is readily available in paperback and highly recommended for Britons and visitors to Britain alike.