Wherever you live in Britain you will not be far from some sort of land where you have the right to roam. Whether it be a village green, a common, a recreation ground or a network of bridal ways and public footpaths, the countryside is easily accessible to all. The owners of the common land have to let people walk and play on their land, but can forbid some activities like building fires or camps.
Often long battles have been fought but the impression you get is of a beautiful rural landscape, well looked after and available for anyone who wants to enjoy it.
It hasn't always been so. Britain went through an agricultural revolution, with distressing consequences. The enclosure or inclosure acts passed between 1750 and 1860 made life extremely difficult for many living in the countryside, it became hard to survive and destroyed hundreds of lives. Our History teacher put us right straight away when we gave the impression that we thought the English countryside was full of buxom milkmaids, men with amazing torsos and lots of frolicking in the haystacks. A sort of nymphs and shepherds come away idyll.
She told us how hard it was for the rural communities. If their harvest failed they starved,. Life in rural England in the eighteenth and nineteenth century was a fight for survival. So where did all our misconceptions come from then? Maybe from literature and paintings that made it look so idyllic.
John Clare (1793-1864) was a farm labourers son who some consider to be one of the greatest nineteenth century poets. His poems provide the clue to how life was. It was extremely hard and there was a constant fight for survival, but the countryside was so glorious with its flowers and fields,woods and wildlife that this together with the solidarity of the small rural communities somehow saved them from extinction. John Clare blames a lot of the rural poverty on the politicians and wealthy landowners,the enclosure acts and the devastation of the land, the factory owners that reached in to the villages and farms and took the children and young people away to exploit them. John Clare wrote so powerfully of nature and the joys of a rural childhood that through his poems we can only see the beauty, the redeeming power of nature. I think when he says evil, he is probably referring to the Enclosure Acts
I love to walk the fields, they are to me
A legacy no evil can destroy
They, like a spell, set every rapture free
That cheered me when a boy.
Play - pastime - all time's blotting
Comes like a newborn joy,
To greet me in the field.
|we all need green spaces where we are free to roam|
|Children love playing in fields, all over the world. In Italy you have to watch out for vipers and adders in the long grass|
|Where crops are growing keep to the edge of the field|