A landscape saved by poets

Fields have been preserved from polytunnels not because of wildlife or the view, but because Robert Frost and Edward Thomas once tramped over them

How many applications to put up polytunnels have been turned down on appeal, do you think? Is it 100, 2,000, 15,000? The figure is fewer than 10. Most recently, it happened in the Gloucestershire village of Redmarley, where a farmer wanted to put up 24 hectares of polytunnels to extend the asparagus-growing season. Last year the district council said no; the national inspectorate has now upheld this decision.

Why so? After all, as the inspectorate says, the site isn’t covered by any special designations; it’s not in a national park. But the ruling wasn’t just down to the damage that would be inflicted on wildlife or the view. It hinged instead on literature: this is the place happily tramped over by the Dymock poets, including Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, who lived nearby before the first world war. The Friends of the Dymock Poets lobbied that the cultural heritage of this land demanded its preservation. Andrew Motion, president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England – and a bit of a scribbler himself – said that permitting the build would be “a horrendous act of vandalism”.

Such official acknowledgement of the shared legacy of ordinary farmland seems a radical step. This isn’t even where the poets lived, but where they strolled to swap ideas and take inspiration. It’s also what some of them died for. When Thomas was asked why he’d decided to enlist, he picked up a handful of earth and said: “Literally, for this.”

I went for a walk along the Malverns a couple of weekends ago with my mum, who was on the Friends’ committee at the time of the campaign. The views from the top of Chase End Hill were amazing: three counties spread out below, a patchwork of wild daffodils, fields, woods, blossom, gorse and lakes shining in the distance. Except they weren’t lakes. They were huge, shimmering sheets of plastic: pre-existing polytunnels near the site, and over it cloches that had sprung up where the polytunnels would have been (you don’t need permission for them, you see). The victory at Redmarley is a first. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

A Great British fake-off

I’d never really given a thought to the cash locked up in my granny’s old tin bath. That was corrected by a trip to Rye, a town giddy with retro tat emporiums. I’ll probably hang on to the bath, but if I had a battered US mailbag kicking about, such as the one they were asking £600 for, I’d flog it pronto.

Aside from these vintage stores, Rye’s streets are lined with craft shops and bakeries, neo-haberdashers and artisanal delis. It was a struggle to find somewhere that didn’t stock bunting. In cities, we have hipsters; outside, such a sensibility seems to be watered down, mixed with Bake Off and Sewing Bee and distilled into twee. Chains such as Cath Kidston have helped make this movement mainstream; it’s now not only a dominant culture but a really powerful economic force. Most of this stuff, from the decorative enamel ladles to the moustache twizzle wax, is, of course, basically surplus to requirements. Yet what’s especially strange is that such conspicuous consumption takes its cues from an age of austerity, its aesthetic born of necessity, not excess. This is blitz-chic for an unrationed, irrational era.

A bruiser’s heart

A few years ago, when I was lukewarm about Les Mis, Russell Crowe called me “an illiterate plonker” on Twitter (tweet since deleted). It made me like him more: here is a man of passion and engagement, unafraid to speak out. His new movie, which he directs as well as stars in, features much crunchy violence, some involving a cricket bat, and – more surprisingly – romance of unabashed naffness. Crowe, it seems, has the heart of a soppy 11-year-old girl inside the body of a 50-year-old bruiser. Maybe that’s why he’s such a knockout combo.


Catherine Shoard

The GuardianTramp

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