Our Downlands are rich in history—’global’, ‘local’ and ‘natural’. They invite reverie.
The Druids were clearly astounded by the order they saw in ‘the heavens’ - contrasting with their own disorderly and unpredictable world. Was there ‘another reality’ and might it interact with ‘ours’? Just how and when religious communities arose remains unclear, but it is certain that by the end of the first millennium ‘a great white mantle’ of churches had spread across Europe. A measure of cohesion had been established—this where totemistic and often savage practices lingered.
Biblical histories became known. Raiders came and went; cult raged against cult. Mythologies abounded and a few folk even knew something of the Greek pantheon, Later, others sought ‘the truth’ in various occult ‘sciences’ - astrology, alchemy, numerology etc. The sophisticated saw themselves as metaphysicians—followers of Aristotle. All this thinking played a part in the way landscape was seen and managed. But, as late as the 18th century, Wordsworth would ask: -
‘Think you mid all this mighty sum
Of things forever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come
But we must still be seeking?’
While rhetorical, these lines clearly suggest a prevailing scepticism! However, for some, the Idea of trying to understand their surroundings as if no more than hills and dales etc, (promoting pleasant pictures) must have seemed far too limiting. In fact, Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) went so far as to accuse all landscape painters (from Titian to Wilson!) of ’Tame Delineation’ !Thus, while trying to avoid going right over the top, we here echo ‘The Futurist Manifesto’ :-
We will none of it (!).
We will not try too hard to separate what we ‘see’ from what we ‘know’, ‘imagine’, ‘remember’ or ‘dream’! We will see these matters as interconnected—and perhaps ‘inseparable’. It was the awareness of a certain ‘wholeness’ that haunted our forefathers and it is their bones that still lie buried in tumuli and barrows across our hills—awaiting their great wakening.
My wife and I have spent countless hours walking the downs and woodlands near our Wiltshire home, seeking and recording flora and fauna. Apart from those records we are left with a store of unbidden images. They sit ill with mere topography and (for my part) will not go away.