The story of English Pastoral
Our founder and curator, Tim, shares how April's Adventurous Ink opened his eyes to the English landscape.
I would never have noticed the strange way Warnscale Beck flows into Buttermere had it not been for James Rebanks.
Making the most of March's unseasonable sunshine, I had stolen a night away to share a special twenty-four hours on the high fells with a pal celebrating a significant birthday.
As we edged around the base of Fleetwith Pike, making our way into the depths of Warnscale Bottom, the glint of an incongruous straight-line caught my eye.
I was mixing a little business into this undoubted pleasure, and stuck in the top of my pack was a copy of James' book English Pastoral, from which I planned to record a reading.
The book was a real eye-opener for me. Despite growing up in the countryside, working on farms and with farmers, and having a couple of related degrees, there are some things you only notice when trying to cultivate a living from the landscape. Of course, a great many farmers are doing just that, but few are as willing to look beyond current practices and examine their impact. And none of them has expressed their reflections quite so eloquently as James.
English Pastoral is his elegant attempt to bring farming and nature back together again. The book is redolent with anecdotes and wisdom from an earlier age, as James devotes large chunks to memories of learning to farm alongside his grandfather. Practices he is now trying to apply in the context of modern farming.
Although it is increasingly common to champion the intelligence of indigenous people in shaping our role within the natural world, rarely does this relate to those hefted into the English landscape.
Applying his age-old insights to counter the catastrophic floods roaring down from the fells to sweep away bridges and livelihoods, James has, for example, been championing the 're-wriggling' of Cumbria's rivers: slowing the flow by allowing water to wend its own way downstream.
So, with my eyes newly opened, I noticed how the wetlands upstream of Buttermere had been drained and 'improved' by the addition of a straight cut channel. All of a sudden, Rebanks' 'poem of our landscape' was revealed.
What better place then to read from this unique and important cultural record than the landscape from which this wisdom was hewn?
Start any subscription during April to recieve English Pastoral as your first book.