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Edited by Maxwell Lewis Latham, Monday, 8 July 2013, 17:12
Here, close beneath the eye of a man... is the hair-fine grass... olive in colour and cropped short by the sheep; among it a few dwarfish violets and the vivid yellow coins of rock-roses whose recumbent stems twine between the roots. The third flower in this miniature world is wild thyme, a spreading stain on the turf whose soft purple colour and warm aromatic smell seem to strike the senses as one. Feeding delicately on it the Chalk-hill-blue butterfly from time to time closes her wings to show the bright rings on their undersides. Looking out now between the elbows and downs show their smooth and perfect convexities, curves shaped by the even weathering of the underlying chalk, particle by particle, through millions of years. A little further down the hill-side the turf ends in arable little fones, a field of pale oats, very short and scattered with charlock and poppies. Speedwall and scarlet pimpernel creeping round the furrows are too small to be visible but can be guessed - their presence... perfectly appropriate. The next field is fallow, mottled like a kestrel's egg where the rusty brown topsoil is broken by white patches of chalk and flints. Still further down the slope, at the line where the springs break out from the hill-side... a beech clump... a track leading to the valley. Interlacing the whole... scene, running through the pallor and remoteness of the downland atmosphere, are the calls... of the... vertical stems of the mounting larks. ...

[T]he man is leaning against a pollard willow by some slow river. The deep grass of meadow, broad-bladed and lush, is quite unlike the fescue turf of the chalk; held in its green gloom the daisies have grown weak and lanky, while the buttercups strike up towards the sun and the stiff clumps of the marguerites overtop them all. Close at hand, where a drainage ditch from the meadow cuts the river bank, is a succulent mass of kingcups, a little broken and spattered with clay by the cows that go there to drink. Just beyond, above a skirt of cow-parsley and bramble, a tall, straggling hawthorn hedge encloses an oak wood... a crowded huddle of... trunks, many of them ragged... The chief feature of this... spinney is its rookery. The bulky nests, whose silhouettes are... a part of the winter and spring landscapes, are now hidden in foliage.

(This magnificent piece of descriptive writing goes on and on, and gets better each page. I picked this book up for a song).


Barker, E. Hawkes, C. & Hawkes, J. (1947) The Character of England, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp.1-2.
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