Over the last few years, the view over the fields behind our house has become increasingly important to me. The back fields.
It is in many ways an unremarkable view. Looking out across flat fields of pasture. A power line, a few hedges and trees. Sometimes there’s sheep but more often the fields are empty. In the distance, on a clear day, a glimpse of the Chiltern Hills. Mentmore, the Beacon at Ivinghoe and beyond. There’s certainly more dramatic views.
Sometimes there is a red kite or a green woodpecker. Today it was a pheasant. But more often it’s a small flock of starlings or sparrows that provide the avian entertainment. In the summer months there are swallows. There’s owls as well, but despite my best efforts I haven’t seen them, only heard their cries on the wind.
I’ve been collecting the sunrises over the fields. Which I suppose is also a way of collecting the sky. Big and open here in North Bucks. Soon the sky might be the only thing still visible to us if the plan to turn the fields into houses is approved.
I think of it as my view, though it’s not mine, I’m just an observer. An onlooker. Not a participant. The flocks of sparrows and starlings don’t object to planning applications, though I’m sure they would given the chance.
It’s a question that’s increasingly discussed, often in light of factory farming, wind farms, fracking or the housing policy.
But it’s not just a directly economic asset. It’s also an escape route. After a genuinely difficult week for our family, we struck out on our usual short loop around the patchwork of fields and pathways that surround the village.
This isn’t picture postcard England. The sights on our circuit incorporate the village football pitches, a couple of light industrial units, a view of Milton Keynes in the distance, some former clay pits (“the bomb hole”) and on Saturday the joy of a red kite soaring over the fields and a clear light that shone some brightness back into our family life.
The countryside is ‘for’ lots of things - but not all of them are easily measured in pounds or acres.
Winter time. Cold. Dark, and paradoxically, in these northern latitudes, a perfect opportunity to watch the warmth of a winter sunrise without having to rise too early. A run of cold clear weather means that most mornings a pinkish, orange light spreads across the cold dark fields, leaves fringed with frost reflect the sudden glare and for a moment the sky flames.
3 years ago moved into our little cottage. A new family with a new baby and a lot of work ahead of us. It had taken a few months to make the place even liveable.
A lot has changed since then, a wedding, another baby and an awful lot of hours spent fixing, painting, sanding and generally finagling a previously neglected old house.
We’ve had so much help from family, friends and neighbours that it almost seems like a betrayal of their efforts to be moving on. But moving we are, to another part of the same village. One thing we have learnt is that Stewkley, Bucks feels very much like home.
Over the last few weeks, dusk has been falling noticeably earlier, and as I’ve been riding home, up to the village, there are lights moving across the fields. Farmers working late to bring in the harvest. Later after I’m home and hosed, the combine harvesters noisily edge past our front door, heading back to the farms on the other side of the village.
Today I spent some time working at the allotment, putting the effort in now for next year, preparing the ground. Sometimes you need to do some prep’ and think of the future. Maybe this is the right time of year for making plans.
Heavy skies, grey and laden with snow. Snow that falls slowly, dampening sounds and flattening perspective. A tramp across the fields, heavy work, snow crunching underfoot - the percussive sounds of winter.
The world seems asleep, but no less beautiful for it. In the fields beyond the pub at the end of the village (where the windmill used to be), there’s little sign of life - just some abandoned old pieces of farm machinery, a couple of very territorial robins and footprints leading out across the fields.
All over the rolling hills of our part of the world, the fields are a riot of bright yellow. The rapeseed is in full bloom, lighting up the horizon and providing a contrast to the dark browns and greens that are the wet mud and fields - the result of the recent wet weather.
It's beautiful, but it’s also a reminder that our countryside is the result of human intervention, and in the 21st century that often means monoculture on an industrial scale. What and who the countryside is for is an increasingly complex debate. This is clearly an effective crop for local agri-business and is tremendously uplifting to the soul - so perhaps in this case a win-win situation.
We started peeling back the history of our house before we were able to move in; revealing fireplaces, layers of paint and failing plaster. These pictures were taken about 90 years apart but on the outside little has changed. The people in the picture have long gone, but finding the picture creates a connection with the previous occupants of our little terrace that was only previously glimpsed in their choice of paint colours hidden underneath layers of woodchip and artex.