Wednesday, February 10, 2010


"Memorable for its obstinate refusal to conform to conventional notions of what is beautiful... it is full of layered meanings and visual pleasures to those who give it the time and attention it deserves" Ken Worpole.

"Essex, sweet Essex" so starts Robert Macfarlane's article in the Saturday Guardian review, in a hymn of praise to this much maligned county. Well I quite agree with him, coming back to it after living in other parts of the country, the first thing that strikes you is the essentially English feel to its landscape. Its land is cultivated, but its willow lined rivers are a delight, small woods edge the fields with a promise of some secret treasure within. Pheasants stalk the little lanes, fighting at the moment to establish dominance over females and territory, grouse potter around along the line of the woods, rabbits also, their small grey furriness reminiscent of a Beatrix Potter 'Cotton tail' creature.
Large houses dot the countryside, for this is a wealthy county, but driving among the villages and the painted timber houses with their pargetting is a delight; these house nestle amongst more newly built ones but it is time moving on, a thatched cottage sitting comfortably with its neighbour.

So to quote Macfarlane and some figures..
"At 350 miles, its coastline is the longest of any English County. Its medieval field systems, grazing marshes and ancient woodlands are amongst the best preserved in Britain. Marsh harriers cruise its skies... and bitterns pick their way through its reed-beds.. In Epping Forest stages bell and rut, on the Dengie Marshes (which I have written about often) a vast coastal prairie of sea-lavender and glasswort"

When I lived here, I would ride out to Epping Forest occasionally, where I met the great hornet that so terrified my horse. Also Hainault Forest, an ancient place, riding there one evening, I took the wrong path and ended up lost in the gathering gloom. Now who spooked who I don't know but my horse sensing my fear took off at a gallop with me clinging down by her neck worried by the low hanging branches as we thundered along the path and eventually arrived into the light. Hatfield Forest has the memory of a 'Hansel and Gretel' cottage in its centre, that my grandfather went to look at for renting when we first moved. It was beautifully set snug amongst the trees, but sadly we never got to live in it.

So I have good memories of Essex, though there seems more roads now, but drive off the beaten track and follow a little lane and there is something to be found as we did the other day when Bulford Mill greeted us just around a corner.

Macfarlane wrote the book 'Wild Places' and many people would argue that the only wild places (if such a thing exists) to be found are in Scotland or Wales, high up on a mountain, and Macfarlane quotes Derek Jarman who called Essex "modern nature - the mixed up, messed up post-pastoral landscape in which most of us now live". Dengie Marsh with the brooding power of a squat ugly nuclear power station nestled in the corner of its flat lands illustrates this perfectly, but it is that meeting of sky, land and man made shapes that make a landscape. How often do we look from a train window, and see a tall spire of a church nestled within a framework of trees and long to go and explore this secret landscape, to find out its history and touch the trees.

As snowflakes are gently falling at the moment, a reminder of summer greenery


  1. Thelma
    I heard Robert McFarlane on Radio 4 yesterday morning so managed to catch The Natural World documentary on BBC2 last night about Essex . It was wonderful. He has such a lyrical way of writing and speaking.Lesley.

  2. Hi Lesley,

    Yes it was a very good programme, the cold weather has gone on so long now that one aches for the first primroses and bluebells of the year, just been trying to find a bluebell photo...