Sunday, May 08, 2005

An island of green 

Once upon a time, Southern Hertfordshire must have been a place of leafy lanes meandering through peaceful villages, each complete with village church (one), village pub (several), and each home to a truly rural community. Nowadays though, the villages that have managed to retain their charm have become dormitories for affluent city workers, the less-charming have sprawled and become dormitories for the less-affluent, and the green countryside is criss-crossed by grey concrete and black tarmac, carved up into isolated pockets, bounded on all sides by the omni-present evidence of our relentlessly growing need to transport ourselves in greater numbers, with greater speed, to more and more places, more and more often.

One such pocket of green lies not far from our house, just ten minutes walk away at the edge of town. Bounded on the south side by motorway, on east and west by the roads leading to our town, and on the north by the town itself, this is just a single irregularly shaped field, divorced from the rest of the farm by those same roads. When we had a dog, it was a favourite dog-walking field – safe to let her off the lead and run free – but I don’t think I’d been back up there since she died, a couple of years ago. No need to, really. However, for several weeks I’d been meaning to pop up here one evening with the camera. It’s slightly higher than the surrounding countryside; only by a few feet, but with its open westerly aspect, that’s enough to give good potential for sunset shots, especially since trees dot the horizon.

So that thought had sat in the back of my mind for a few weeks – ever since I got the new camera - and as yesterday evening wore on it suddenly dawned on me that the air was clear, the sky blue with just a scattering of clouds, and most miraculously of all, I had half an hour to spare.

I don’t know whether other countries have this feature, but rural England has a vast network of public rights of way: mostly footpaths, often crossing private land, but which the general public has a legal (and usually ancient) right to walk. Many of these cross farmland, and regrettably far too many farmers find this a nuisance and plough over the right of way, planting crops to impede access. The farmer here had done just that, so I took great pleasure in asserting my right of access and trampling down the crops that grew where the path should have been. Trouble was, I ended up with green-stained trousers for my pains – serves me right; I should have been looking at the sky, not worrying about the ground.

I was just too late really to catch the full warmth of the late evening sun on the treetops…

…but still in time to catch the sun before it set.

And just to show that the representation of rural idyll is all a matter of where the camera points, this was the view just a few yards away:

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