It was Bertrand Russell who said that nobody could have any idea about how quiet the countryside could be unless they had lived and walked before the Great War.
No walk, of course, is undertaken in silence. There are always the sounds of the countryside around, the wind soughing through the trees and the birds singing. I like to hear the sound of church bells ringing in the distance, knowing it is a sound that our ancestors would have heard as they looked across the same scene.
But the intrusive sounds of the 21st century are a pest, whether they be the distant rumble of traffic or the buzz of aircraft overhead.
I loved that Icelandic volcano! A few magical days of country walking without any aeroplanes overhead. I think it was the country poet Edward Thomas who, sometime before the Great War, referred to an aeroplane overhead – probably the first poetic mentions of one of the wretched things. Just reading his poem gives a real feeling of intrusion, a sense that the countryside may never be truly secret ever again.
The babble of ramblers can be annoying, and explains why I can never really be a group walker – though I enjoy the company of some walkers in groups I have walked with.
But I do think they talk too much. Some years ago, I led a trappist walk for my rambling group – a ramble across northern Dartmoor where talking was forbidden, except for a couple of talking breaks. It was an odd experience, particularly when we couldn’t say hello to passers-by. But I commend the experiment to you. Best done on open ground where you don’t have to see people over lots of stiles or through chatty villages.
And wouldn’t it be lovely, never to hear a car engine again?
Walking right out near Cranmere Pool on northern Dartmoor a while ago, I could clearly hear the traffic on the awful Okehampton bypass.
A place of solitude defiled.
Okay, I’m a motorist too, but it seems to me we have become obsessed with getting to places far too quickly. Cars shouldn’t have priority over the peaceful existence of country walkers. They should have to cope with existing roads, with no more dual-carriageways invading our green fields – like that dreadful monstrosity just being completed into Weymouth for the benefit of Olympic Games gawpers.
And I wish nothing but hell and perdition on the proposed high speed rail link through the lovely Chilterns. Do we really need a rail line that gets people – almost certainly rich businessmen will be the only people who can afford a ticket – just a bit faster to the north? Wouldn’t it be better to invest all that cash on our branch lines, so that the multitude can leave their cars at home and access our beautiful countryside as our forebears did? I don’t mind the distant and occasional rumble of a train, particularly if its carriages are carrying real people, not suited idiots who can’t see further than their calculators.
Nowadays, you have to go further out to avoid the sounds of machinery; far into the Pennines perhaps, or the loneliest glens of Scotland. There you may find just the sounds of nature.
Just occasionally it is possible to hear the quieter sounds of nature without the turgid blare of human interference. But the experience becomes rarer as we progress through this new century.
Let us all fight a battle to keep noise and visual intrusion out of our countryside.