Tuesday, 19 August 2008

"The Amazing Flying Sky"

I am very glad to be back in the flatlands of Lincolnshire, I have become very fond of the open nature of this countryside, much of England's landscape seems very closed and claustrophobic. While Lincolnshire may be flat, it has plenty of trees and features, and it has 'the amazing flying sky' (Donovan, "Starfish on the Toast") which is very important thing for me, after my time in Orkney.

I love to be able to watch the weather coming and going, to see clouds form and dissolve and melt into veils of rain. To see the sunlight plunge in shafts through the sculpted clouds, and watch roiling formations gallop across the sky. This delight in watching the sky is, I think, one of the many reasons I'm not happy in bricks and mortar - the sky and the weather are simply too distant and inaccessible. This weekend we will be in Shropshire - very different country, rolling, thoroughly man-dominated farming country, and plenty of post-Victorian industrial landscapes, too. Not that those latter are always a bad thing, some councils have made laudable efforts to ensure that old industrial areas have been transformed into glorious wildlife havens. Indeed, some of them have been turned into fascinating 'living museums' which can provide an absorbing and full day's entertainment, Ironbridge being a pioneering and shining example. We visited when it had only recently opened, and was a very new, and revolutionary concept, and have watched it blossom, over the past quarter century, with intense pleasure. The people of our past, and their work and achievements, deserve our recognition and respect, and we have much to learn from their experience, not least, to treat our resources with much greater care!

Next week we shall be in Scotland, in the Borders and around Edinburgh. A beautiful area, with plenty of dramatic vistas, but not my favourite part of mainland Scotland - that lies much farther north, in the wide, open spaces of Caithness and Sutherland, where man has left a wilderness behind, after the Clearances, for sheep farming and game hunting. Sheep are still there, but not in the same numbers, as is game, but there are also wide swathes of monoculture forestry, though these are widely separated by sweeping vistas of moorland, with lochs that shelter such glorious creatures as osprey. If I had my 'druthers' we'd go to Orkney, where the landscape is mostly sky - you can see the weather coming in plenty of time to prepare for it! Orkney manages to be wild and fertile at the same time, man has gained a good living there for millenia, and the food is fabulous! The beef is flavoursome and tender, mostly raised by farmers on small farms, who care for their 'beasts' like their children! The cabbages grow to the size of footballs, and all the vegetables are bigger and tastier than I can recall any where else, while the seafood is to die for! The traditional dishes, such as bannocks, farm cheese and 'clapshot' are a gaping hole in my gustatory life, and Stockans of Stromness make the only oatcakes worth eating!

Oh dear, my homesickness is showing, change direction! The great joy of a travelling lifestyle is the wealth of new experiences, most of which are free - the views are always different, and always have something special, and, even in such a small island, the people in each area are different - possibly because the landscape itself imposes different lifestyles, and therefore, dispositions. So far, the only people I have found it difficult to like have been city dwellers - it always seems to be 'rush, rush' and no empathy or time for any other viewpoint, 'number one' always comes first. Today, my home is creaking gently in the wind, and the clouds are like grubby lumps of cotton wool, rolling and fleeing across the sky, with delicate patches of pale blue breaking up the lumpy texture of the clouds. If I lived in a house, let alone a city, I probably wouldn't even notice, let alone be uplifted by it.

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