The best books evoking the spirit of the British countryside

Charlie Pye-Smith Author Of Land of Plenty: A Journey Through the Fields & Foods of Modern Britain
By Charlie Pye-Smith

The Books I Picked & Why

Rural Rides

By William Cobbett

Rural Rides

Why this book?

Describing a series of journeys on horseback and by foot through south-east England and the Midlands during the 1820s, Rural Rides is one of the great travelogues. Cobbett was a man of many parts – journalist, soldier, farmer, politician, and social reformer. In Rural Rides he blends lyrical description with fist-shaking fury about the injustices he encountered. He writes so well that you feel that you are travelling through the countryside with him.


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Cider with Rosie

By Laurie Lee

Cider with Rosie

Why this book?

“I belong to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years’ life… Myself, my family, my generation were born in a world of silence; a world of hard work and necessary patience…”

Reflecting on his childhood experiences in rural Gloucestershire in the years immediately after the First World War, Laurie Lee provides an elegiac account of a way of life which was soon to be swept away by the coming of electricity, second home-owners, tarmac roads, and the bric-a-brac of the modern world. It is a great, poetic love story too. When I read it as a teenager I was entranced by the idea of sharing a flagon of cider with Rosie – or someone like her – beneath an apple cart.


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On Hunting

By Roger Scruton

On Hunting

Why this book?

On Hunting is not so much a defence of foxhunting, which the conservative philosopher came to quite late in life, as a celebration of everything associated with it, from its culture to its profound influence on rural communities and the strange veneration of the quarry species. It also helps to explain, better than any other book I have read, why significant numbers of people are so passionate about hunting. “This book will bring on its author’s head the abuse to which he has long been accustomed,” wrote the historian Raymond Carr in the Literary Review. “But even the politically correct, if they have a shred of honesty, must acknowledge the intellectual power and literary elegance that distinguish it.”


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Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape

By Patrick Laurie

Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape

Why this book?

We are blessed right now with an abundance of farmers who have good stories to tell. Three hill farmers stand out: John Lewis-Stempel, James Rebanks, and Patrick Laurie, whose Native is so lyrical that it reads at times like a prose poem by Seamus Heaney. Laurie’s book is an account, season by season, of his relationship with a roughish bit of land in southwest Scotland. It is part love affair with his small farm, and the curlews and native Galloway cattle in which he has an obsessional interest, and part critique of modern farming and the industrial timber production that threatens much of the open moorland. Native is worth reading just for the quality of the prose, even if you’re not remotely interested in countryside matters.


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Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

By Simon Armitage

Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

Why this book?

This is one of the best books I have read about a long walk – in this case, the poet laureate Simon Armitage’s account of the 19 days he spent walking the Pennine Way, beginning at its northern extremity and ending up near his home in West Yorkshire. This is not a precious, solipsistic memoir of the sort favoured by many of our celebrated New Nature Writers, but a wonderfully droll account of what was often a hard slog, where at the end of each day Armitage, who set off without any money, sings for his supper, reading poetry in village halls, pubs, barns, and other venues, and takes pot luck with whatever accommodation he is offered for the night. Walking Home provides a vivid portrait of one of our great landscapes, and the quirks of character and acts of kindness he encounters on the way.


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