A few years ago I heard a remark about British landscape. It’s gentle, he said, which is what makes it pleasant. The lowland is certainly that, vast farming areas from north to south with patchwork fields and hedgerows. Drive down the M6 for example and for much of the time it surrounds you. Walking is better, and many of us find that countryside quite easily or perhaps at local nature reserves. I went out on a mild Boxing Day a few years ago, like it was spring, and people were everywhere. It’s a British tradition.
The South Downs are gentle and so too the Fens, Lincolnshire Wolds, Cotswolds, coastal parts like Pembrokeshire, Devon, Cornwall, and the Lleyn Peninsula. There are bigger places too with peaks and hills and crags which is what I particularly love and photograph. Scotland most notably as the biggest mountain area with the highest summits. It’s also the most beautiful landscape in my opinion, like the Lake District but bigger. The Lakes are deservedly famous and recently obtained World Heritage status, attracting millions of visitors including many from overseas. In the middle of summer it’s not unusual to see American or Japanese visitors at Ambleside, Grasmere or Rydal, possibly seeking Wordsworth or Beatrix Potter attractions.
I like big mountains not only for photographs but also for philosophical reasons. I read and sometimes write about people like Edward Abbey, Nan Shepherd, Robert Macfarlane, Thoreau, John Muir and others. “We simply need wild country available to us” said conservationist Wallace Stegner “even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” That sums up much of my feeling.
Wales has Snowdon, highest in England and Wales and the most visited British mountain; partly because of the railway. I spent more than thirty years exploring the Lakes and for the last ten years I’ve gravitated towards (and now prefer) Snowdonia. I published some Peak District photographs on the internet and an American said to me “love your photographs, I really hope to go there some day.” I was surprised she said that thinking surely, you would aspire to the Lakes or Scotland for a long haul visit?
There are British landscapes to suit all tastes concentrated in what is (remarkably) such a small island. Historic too, with Celtic, Gaelic and Arthurian stories to excite the imagination. I have yet to read the Mabinogion for example, but it’s partly based in the Welsh mountains. Wordsworth of course hiked the Lake District fells and his poetry and ideas encouraged the emerging interest in hill walking. The Victorians used to fear the hills.
Then there’s the British seasons. Late summer brings purple heather to upland areas, notably in the Peak District. I write this as we pass the autumn equinox, thinking where I might enjoy and photograph the colours for the coming weeks. Although I might add, it doesn’t have to be a big place. I was astonished at the vivid yellow, orange and red in a group of local trees two years ago. The summer had been wet and mild, the reason for exceptional colours, and the day was bright and sunny.
Winter follows soon and one of my best walks ever was in snowy 2013, camping at Buttermere, minus five at night and zero in the day. I walked above the valley climbing to Red Pike, High Stile, High Crag and Fleetwith Pike. I came down in darkness, as I often have, with good photographs to capture the day.