Excavating The English Countryside


Hugh Thomson reflects on the natural history of his homeland:

[W]e suffer from what might be called Sherwood Syndrome: the need to believe that much of England — most of England — was both wild and wooded until modern history ‘began’ in 1066, or indeed stayed so until much later; and that these ancient forests were the repository of ‘a spirit of England’, the Green Man, that could be summoned at times when we needed to be reminded of our national identity; where Robin Hoods of all subsequent generations could escape, where the Druids gathered their mistletoe from the trees, where the oak that built our battleships came from.

The myth panders to our need for a sense of loss. There is an undercurrent of regret running through our history. A nostalgia for what could have been: the unicorn disappearing into the trees; the loss of Roman Britain; the loss of Albion; the loss of Empire. We are forever constructing prelapsarian narratives in which a golden sunlit time — the Pax Romana, the Elizabethan golden age, that Edwardian summer before the First World War, a brief moment in the mid-1960s with the Beatles — prefigure anarchy and decay. Or the cutting down of the forest.

(Photo: A derelict farm house adorns the horizon as it sits in a field in the Lancashire Countryside on January 26, 2012 in Burscough, England. By Christopher Furlong/Getty Images. Hat tip: Things Magazine.)