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.
It’s that time of the year when you look up and realise that summer has all but slipped away. There is a mist over the fields in the morning, and although still mild the heat has gone out of the middle of the day. But it’s still just about summer. A ‘quarter season’. A liminal time.
There are a lot of small rituals and signs associated with the coming of autumn and I have my own list of minor indicators that provide a coda to another summer: the end of the cricket season, preparing my commuting bike for the damp mornings ahead and a family walk out along the edge of the village collecting blackberries (and sloes).
There’s been some bigger changes too over recent week: a new niece, a new start for Violet and maybe for Emma as well. Everything the same, constant change.
Inspired by the idea that temporal landmarks are important, it feels like these familial rituals need more space and emphasis. The sloes are already in the gin, waiting for another occasion to mark.
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.
From the top of Ivinghoe Beacon there’s a path that leads along the top of the ridge and into the woods on the Ashridge Estate. It’s a managed woodland, but part of the joy of walk though here is that it’s not overly managed. Clumps of fallen timber and rotting leaves sit under the broad leaf canopy, making it a haven for all kinds of plants, wildlife and hurtling children.
Clouds over the flower meadow. This afternoon Emma spotted that there was a field between Stewkley, Drayton Parslow and Hollingdon that was marked with a pinky yellow border on the OS map. Access rights, it said. So we went to have a look.
It’s a pretty field, uncultivated, sitting on it’s own a little way from the three villages nearby. It’s certainly not a common and I’m not sure why it’s been designated as ‘public access land’, but it’s very peaceful and I’m glad it’s there.
An autumn day on the west coast of Mull. It’s been wet all week and the desire to sit by the wood burner with a book and wine has been anchoring us all to the sofa.
But today it’s bright and clear, though the wind that’s bringing the change of weather is wiping down from the artic with an icy core.
Treshnish point is a rare corner of our nation of islands. Probably continuously inhabited for the last 6000 years, it wears the impact of human endeavour lightly. The landscape shaped by a mix of people, farming and the elements that sometimes pummel the exposed beaches and clifftops. There’s evidence of old sheep pens and landings as I walk beyond the last cottages at Haun.
In late autumn the wild flowers that I’ve seen here are in retreat but the grasslands that foot the rocky steps are punctuated by a variety of fungus and mushrooms that stand out with their red and yellow marks against the bright greens and moody greys of the landscape.
With the wind behind I’m blown down the winding track past the rocky coves and rock stacks that look out to towards the twin islands of Coll and Tiree, and the carved presence of the Treshnish Islands. The ground is a little boggy underfoot in places, the result of a wet end to autumn.
On along with the coast watching the huge waves crash into rocky stacks and across small pebbly beaches punctuated with small caves and dark black rock pools. As I round the corner, the vista opens up. The islands of Gometra and Ulva nestled into Loch Tuath. At first glance the two islands look like one, but on closer inspection the small gully between them is just visible in fading light. In the distance hidden amongst the clouds Mull’s own Monro, Ben More forms a brooding backdrop. Tomorrow the first snows of the winter will dust the tops, but today the mountain looks grey and austere.
A few minutes trying to soak it all in and then I turn, stoop into the wind and battle back along the headland to the comfort of the fire.