Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill

At the weekend I went to see Johnny Coppin’s All on a Winter’s Night – a beautiful evening of seasonal music. I came home with a CD that included all of the album Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill and it has taken me on something of a journey. This album was part of the soundtrack of my childhood, and is full of songs about Gloucestershire. This is not a review for the album, but it is a wholehearted recommendation to check it out.

There are many Gloucestershire writers of course, some of whose poems are set to music on this album. Child-me knew nothing of this before I encountered the album, and had little sense of who the poets were. What struck me, between the words and the music, was the experience of having my own landscape expressed. For me, this album captures a sense of the Cotswolds and Severn Vale as an enchanted place, full of beauty and wonder. I think it likely that my sense of the possibility for enchantment in the landscape began here.

When I left the Cotswolds for the Midlands, these were the songs I turned to. I learned some of them and sang them as a way of retaining a sense of connection with the land I grew up in.

Listening to Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill as an adult, back in this landscape I’m painfully aware of what I’ve lost. I’ve been examining my feelings of disenchantment, and much of it comes down to cars. Car noise is everywhere. You can see, hear and smell them. There are rare places where the sound doesn’t permeate, and going out at night and early in the morning can be quieter. I find the intense presence of cars in the landscape a source of disenchantment. I can’t hear the wildlife, or smell what’s natural. Heavily used roads distort my experience of the land. The lanes are dangerous.

Cars do such a good job of turning the land into something we can use and consume. They insulate us, give us the big views, take away the experience of being in a place. There are so many people driving up onto the commons, and out to the beauty spots that it impacts on the very reason they are there. Leading to people traipsing round carelessly, often with dogs, leaving poos in plastic bags, filling the landscape with their noise. What could have been magical becomes a playground for those who can afford it.

I don’t know what to do about my own disenchantment. Johnny Coppin’s voice has, at times, something eerie and otherworldly about it, which I love. A quality that cuts through to the part of me that still wants to be enchanted, and reminds me that this is possible. Which mostly results in me crying pathetically, but there we go – it’s what I’ve got at the moment. Better to feel grief than to feel nothing.

No doubt the Gloucestershire poets have contributed to the making desirable of this part of the world. The weekend homes, the retired money moving in, the unaffordable villages. People come here looking for Laurie Lee and cider with Rosie and all the rest. They come here because rich and famous and royal people have come here. And there is no silence left in the hills most days where the magic can seep in.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill

  • tarotlenormandcards

    yes….. one of the rewards of being a – struggling – freelancer is the freedom to go to my favourite places on the weekdays, no cars, no people. Even the public transport connections are better on these days:)

    • Nimue Brown

      So much of my work is social media- I can take time off in the week but I have to be organised! It is definitely quieter in the week, and in bad weather, but the noise from the main roads is constant.

  • emberbear

    Even in the 1970s, when I lived in Gloucestershire, the main roads were busy. Sometimes we would walk along them to get to the place we wanted to go and sometimes we would take the bus to a starting point. Witcombe woods, Coopers hill, Churchdown hill, the Devil’s chimney near Leckhampton, walks through the countryside to Stroud, Tewkesbury and so many other places are outstanding childhood memories for me. Thank you for evoking the sense of wonder that I felt. It is sad that the countryside everywhere is falling to the car and rubbish, but oases remain and can still be found off the beaten track.

  • Barney Rubble

    I lived briefly in Nailsworth in the 90’s. Lived around that part of the world actually. Aston in Oxfordshire.

  • emberbear

    It is a beautiful part of the world.

  • emberbear

    Hail, fellow Cotswoldians, past and present. Well met by moonlight.

  • emberbear

    And thank you for the recommendation, Nimue. I enjoyed Forest, Vale, etc.

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