One of the joys of Christmas for one webteam member is that surprise gift of a book that you can creep away occasionally from all the crowds to read quietly over the holiday.
This year, that book was Bill Bryson's 'The Road to Little Dribbling', the follow-up tour of Britain twenty years after his Number One success 'Notes from a Small Island.'
His description of the English countryside – and remember, he had been brought up in Iowa, a contender for the most boring state in the Union. What he writes here certainly makes us Brits who live in the countryside even more grateful for our good fortune: He writes:
Nothing – and I mean, really, absolutely nothing – is more extraordinary about Britain than the beauty of the countryside. Nowhere in the world is there a landscape that has been more intensively utilised – more mined, farmed, quarried, covered with cities and clanging factories, threaded with motorways and railway lines – and yet remains so comprehensively and reliably lovely over most of its extent. It is the happiest accident in history.
In terms of natural wonders, you know, Britain is a pretty unspectacular place. It has no alpine peaks or broad rift valleys, no mighty gorges or thundering cataracts. It is built to really quite a modest scale. And yet with few unassuming natural endowments, a great deal of time and an unfailing instinct for improvement, the makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known – almost none of it undertaken with aesthetics in mind, but all of it adding up to something that is, quite often, perfect. What an achievement that is.
And what a joy it is to walk in it. England and Wales have 130,000 miles of public footpaths, about 2.2 miles of path for every square mile of area. People in Britain don't realise how extraordinary that is, If you told someone in the Midwest of America, where I come from, that you intended to spend the weekend walking across farmland, they would look at you as if you were out of your mind.
You couldn't do it anyway. Every field you crossed would end in a barrier of barbed wire. You would find no helpful stiles, no kissing gates, no beckoning wooden footpath posts to guide you on your way. All you would get would be a farmer with a shotgun wondering what the hell you were doing blundering around in his alfalfa.
No wonder they made Bill Bryson President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the CPRE.
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