Thursday, 12 July 2012


Named after a flower of the moor, it's my duty to support National Countryside Week which started on Monday. Seven days to coax people out onto the land and really notice it. Observe the natural habitats of birds, mammals and insects. Admire its wild and rugged, or picture-perfect landscapes. Drinking these in like a fine wine accompanied by the sun's full-bodied warmth or the splashes of chilled rain. This, the real world, the one we all share, but take for granted, expecting it always to be there, even if we turn our back on it. An article by the Prince's Countryside Fund Ambassador, Alan Titchmarsh, has impressed these thoughts on me. Why do we value our land only in terms of property? Real estate cannot possibly match the beauty of rural scenery.

Yesterday, I was reminded how we neglect what's right outside our doorstep. Boarding a train, I journeyed from Epsom to Chichester, via Horsham. It's not a route I've traversed before and the views were amazing. Greenness stretched out as far as the eye could see – fields, rivers, cattle and remote houses nestled within the window picture. The train became the obstacle disrupting the full view. Turning my head from side to side so as not to miss any of this openness. I've always enjoyed journeys more than the destination, passing through the countryside, woodland and hamlets. Other people might read or text, eyes down, whereas mine are permanently fixed to the window. Face set in a 'don't distract me look, I'm gazing'. Nabbing a window seat by plane, train, bus or car. My role in life is as a passenger. A disposition not suited to driving, I'm so absorbed in the sights outside the road is a tarmac blur, its white central line waving. I'm much safer as Lady Penelope, issuing commands from the back seat, “Drive on, Parker.”

Is my name the reason I'm affected by and appreciate the countryside? Perhaps that's why I yearn for any view other than concrete buildings? A single tree or a glimpse of green will do. I love to see the earth touching sky and the seasons changing. The lushness of Spring and the ruddy-gold hues of Autumn. I'm instinctively drawn to horticulturists, botanists, or those who describe themselves as green-fingered, for even wild flowers have to be cultivated. To be whispered to and encouraged. Nature needs nurture and vice versa.

Our suburbs are spreading, changing the land we live on. It's being eaten up by new developments or left unprotected. Towns and cities begin to look the same: an amalgamation of high street brands and businesses, new homes which nobody can afford and which aren't in keeping. Living on the borders of the Surrey Hills and West Sussex, I'm not disconnected from my wild roots, but I wonder how I'll feel if over time that link gets closeted. Will I become a fool who sees not the same tree that a wise man sees?