CEERRK The Mill and River Stour at Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Pastoral pleasures

Delighting and relaxing away from the city

Every Saturday evening for the best part of 30 years the late broadcaster Eric Maschwitz would boom out to BBC listeners, “Once more we stop the mighty roar of London’s traffic to bring you “In Town Tonight””. A kaleidoscope of colourful stories and outside broadcasts from around town, from cockney costers of old Covent Garden shifting and shunting their produce for sale to the bright lights and even brighter young things of Mayfair clubs and parties, ITT covered the lot with gusto.

At its end Maschwitz would issue his edict to “Carry on London!” as the strains of Eric Coates’ “Knightsbridge March” struck up. And so the whirligig whirled on. The show summed up the never- stopping, never-sleeping nature of our nation’s capital, which survives to this day. Whether dining at The Mirabelle, dancing at Annabel’s or drinking in any number of the city’s other swank spots, exuberant, eternal London has always something to offer, even if you do not really want it or should not in all conscience accept it. And when the suburbs are silenced and stilled, Soho, the ‘dilly and the central strip remain alive and kicking well after dawn has cracked and the street cleaners are cruising the pavements.

the blue yonder seems endless: broken only by white cloud that turns first the dappled silver of a mackerel sky then ruby and gold

But are there better places to greet the morning? Better than the asphalt jungle choking with the noise and the heat and the merriment of what we care to call civilisation? Where there is a quieter pace and a slower, more organic order whose drumbeat is dictated by the rhythm of nature and not the second set at Ronnie Scott’s? Well, of course there are such places, and they can be found far beyond the broker belt of the Home Counties and deep in the heart of pastoral England.
Whether it be Dorset or Devon, Shropshire or the Marches, there are countless secluded spots where the sun shines undisturbed by the strident sounds of the metropolis. Where foxglove and sweet William colour the canvas in place of brash traffic lights and tawdry shopfront furniture; where lavender and lily of the valley scent the twilight scene more sweetly than the sickly smells of fast food and stale beer. And where in the middle of the day there is no sound, no sound at all save that of the breeze murmuring through oak and ash and the keen mew of the buzzard floating far above.

These are the places of the big sky — they can be found in the plains of East Anglia, too — where the blue yonder seems endless: broken only by white cloud that turns first the dappled silver of a mackerel sky then ruby and gold as the evening draws on.

In hamlets such as Lydlinch, villages like Ashprington and in sleepy market towns like Wem or Sturminster Newton, the steady cadence of life is woven into the fabric of the community like threads in a tapestry. Each delicate strand eliding with the others to create a richness of colour, pattern and form that comfort and calm the soul of the visitor.

The garish neon of the city might excite, but the natural pulse of the country serves to soothe. Sitting quietly in such places one finds peace. Peace, away from all the wearisome wokery, to work with greater awareness. Peace to think things through with more focus and lucidity then sleep the more soundly.

Having spent much of the summer in it, I realise now what wiser minds than mine learned long ago: that the country is not simply a place for a weekend excursion or to escape the city for a few days before reloading the boot of the Beemer and cruise-controlling one’s way back into town. It is a place to make friends, make a living and make a home. For all the glitter of the lights of London cannot compare in luminosity to the ghostly glimmer of a glow worm.

This article is taken from the October 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

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