It doesn't have the coherence or quality of Coast, but the BBC's Secret Britain series is fascinating nonetheless. Some of the locations seem to have come from someone's Little Black Book of Amazing Places Not Many People Know About, but the personal stories have been interesting. I particularly liked the chap in episode 2 whose parents enjoyed wartime trysts on a Shropshire common.
He got me thinking. The most remarkable thing about his Special Place is that it has hardly changed in sixty years, while the countryside generally has changed dramatically. Yes, the much-loved patchwork of green fields and hedgerows survives outside the grain-producing areas of the east and south, but the detail of landscape and village has in many places been altered by cars, changes in farming and a modern taste for tidiness.
Then I found an old book of Dorset history that belonged to my grandfather. Knowlton Church was in there and the picture, taken a few years before I was born, showed a very different place, overgrown with brambles with only the church tower visible. It had been cleared around the time I was born so that the public could appreciate the site. So my ancient and unchanging place had actually changed very recently.
I was reminded of this by something the artist Paul Nash wrote about visiting Avebury. He first went in 1933:
The great stones were then in their wild state, so to speak. Some were half-covered by the grass, others stood up in cornfields or were entangled and overgrown in the copses, some were buried under the turf. But they were wonderful and disquieting, and as I saw them then, I shall always remember them. Very soon afterwards the big work of reinstating the stones and avenues began, so that to a great extent the primal magic of the stones' appearance was lost.
|Paul Nash, Landscape of the Megaliths, 1937|