For two years or so, I lived on the flood plain, down low, barely above sea level. Although I travelled about, mostly I lived on the flat, and most of my best views only gave me a handful of miles in any given direction.
I grew up on a hillside, hills are where I feel most at home. The flat lands were only bearable to me because they were the flat bit between hills, and I could at least see that which I love. It’s amazing though, how much can be forgotten, and how quickly.
This last week I’ve been able to get out and about on the hills around my new home. There are commons here, lovely open spaces that survived enclosure acts and the tendency of wealthy landowners to put fences around things. It may be my inner nomad, or my inner communist speaking, I don’t know, but I find the concept of land ownership difficult. I’ll happily respect living spaces, and crops in the fields, I’m careful with livestock, but fenced off spaces with ‘private keep out signs’ make me cross. The land should belong to everyone, and not be fenced off for the benefit of the few. Access and faming can be compatible so long as people are sensible and respectful. Yes, I know that’s a big ask, but I’m an idealist.
I love common land and the absolute right to wander about. In practice, many spaces owned by ‘the public’ are actually managed by some outfit or another. We see how that works (and doesn’t) around sites like Stonehenge, and national parks, where ownership on behalf of the public turns rapidly into a ‘right’ to charge a lot of money for access. That doesn’t sit well with me, either.
There are hilltops here with commons on them, and on that land are signs of all kinds of old and ancient human activity. There is wildlife – orchids, insects, all manner of things. I’ve found fossils, because this is old sea bed. Most importantly, there are the views. Vast, panoramic stretches of landscape open up before me. I can see the river, and distant mountains in Wales. Depending on where I go, the views carry me in many directions.
On a hill top, the sky is a vast and wholly visible dome, unbroken by manmade or natural intrusions. The wind is almost constantly present. The sense of being on the earth and under the sky is intense. This is my temple to air and space, to freedom and flights of fancy. Here I can open my arms and pretend they are wings, and feel the air rush past my face. Dwarfed by the landscape, and by the enormity of sky, I feel release and relief. All those things that belong to the human domain (down at the bottom of the hills) cease to be relevant for a little while. This is what matters. This is the important bit.
I cannot live in a temple in the sky. I have to come back, eventually. Reluctantly. Here in this space, the immediate and human concerns loom large. They seem increasingly like distractions from that which is truly important.