Once upon a time, there was a little boy who thought he had no landscape. He did live in the countryside, but the land was on the cold shoulder of Scotland sticking out into the North Sea. The views to the North and East were dominated by sea. Looking West the view was only one field deep and to the South not even that, as it looked directly into the foot of a featureless slope.

With no natural features, only one notable hill and no trees since an angry Robert the Bruce had his army destroy them all in1308, the place where this little boy grew up is often described as bleak.

Now that little boy lives in the landscape wealth of the beautiful Eden Valley. I am literally seconds from the Yorkshire Dales National Park and only minutes from overlooking the Lake District and Morecambe Bay. We live in an area so rich in visual treasures that poets can struggle to describe them and artists will not always manage to portray them. But even the most dramatic of landscapes is not simply a view. No matter how many worthy words are written about topography and geology, our landscapes are not just to look at. They have to be touched, felt, smelled and heard. To be tasted. To be experienced and enjoyed with all of our senses.

As I write this, 70% of Britons have admitted that they are losing touch with Nature, and 13% say that they haven’t been to the countryside for more than two years. When we are young we do not recognise words like “engage” or “immerse”, we just do stuff! My childhood environment may have appeared bleak but it was far from barren, and even now neither my memories nor my continuing sense of wonder have ever dimmed.

Scrabbling along dry stone walls looking for snails, or more thrillingly their thrush-battered empty shells.

Summer days in hay fields, waiting for the hares and partridges to make their dramatic breaks for safety as their island sanctuary of long grass became smaller with each turn of the tractor. The smell of the newly cut grasses mingling with the perfumes and oily scents of more unfamiliar plants as they all fell behind the mower. The cloying coconutty sweetness of the gorse, the rich, damp soil smell of autumn or even just of mud being churned by farm traffic, unnoticed now as we sit in our air-conditioned, hi-fi and wi-fi enabled sealed tractor cabs.

Watching the moving patterns in the fields as crops shimmered and bent in the wind or cloud shadows scudded across. Wondering if the summer evening’s haar, rolling off the sea, would feel cold when it reached you.

Being out in the thickening gloom of a winter’s dusk, listening to the sounds of pheasants flying up and cattle settling down for the night.

Trying to spot the skylark that had been singing high in the sky all day, hearing the calls of the lapwings and oyster catchers in the fields, and listening to the pigeons and rooks around the farm.

The summer sunsets over the headlands and the sea, with reds and yellows and pinks and oranges smeared across the sky above the black cliffs and violet water.

The sweetest of convenience snacks, a carrot or swede freshly lifted from the drill and scraped clean with a knife.

But all of these experiences need a setting, a framework that makes sense to us, and this is landscape.

More than one eyebrow has been raised when we’ve described landscapes as our life support systems, yet the conversation then develops along the lines of the Monty Python “What have the Romans ever done for us?” sketch.

There’s our food. And water. And clean air. There’s flood mitigation and carbon storage and providing the backdrop for our visitor economy, and these are just the tangibles.

Landscape can also soothe or excite, depending on its or our mood. It inspires and enriches. It connects us with our past, sustains us in the present and gives us hope for the future.

Great Landscapes Week is a series of opportunities for everyone to think about, engage with and enjoy the landscapes we are blessed to be surrounded by. What would Cumbria be without its landscapes? And without their physical and spiritual sustenance, what would we be?


Chief Executive, Friends of the Lake District