Why not a thousand?October 16th, 2013
It seems that September is a time for releasing books and showing new documentaries on television. At it has felt that way with what I have seen in branches of Waterstones and on the BBC. The latter’s iPlayer has made me aware of the television efforts of Paul Murton with his Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands still on BBC 1 in Scotland and three previous series of Grand Tours of Scotland. The viewing is undemanding and Scotland’s scenery is the real star. Just like the country itself, the television series features a real variety ranging from inland islands on Loch Lomond to Lismore, Colonsay and Oronsay on Scotland’s western seaboard. It’s been a while since I explored and offshore Scottish island so revisiting their delights sounds like a plan to have in hand give the pleasures that I have met on them on previous trips.
Returning to the topic of books, it may be the looming end of the year and the lengthening of nights but there was an explosion in book launches last month. While my yearling Google Nexus 7 spends part of its life as an eBook reader and that has made sure that some more fleeting volumes actually do get read and not just collected, there remains a certain something about the traditional paper book than has been with us for hundreds of years. The packaging is part of the appeal and probably will ensure that at least some of us stick with them in preference to the lure of electronic gadgets. It seems that publishers have improved on presentation exactly when it was needed but there is one thing about the dead tree tome that I haven’t found as easy to do with an eBook: dip in and out of the pages out of sequence as and when the mood takes you.
Both attributes certainly apply to Simon Jenkins’ latest offering: England’s 100 Best Views. This almost is the sort of book to have on a nearby shelf for spontaneous perusal of some random page in there. The same approach probably applies to predecessor tomes from the same author like England’s Thousand Best Churches, England’s Thousand Best Houses or Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles. Extending the analogy further, you even could apply this thinking to any walking guide that you care to have in your possession. Maybe, that added randomness could spice up route planning more than checking out the route pages of a walking magazine.
England’s 100 Best Views does betray its associations with the National Trust, of which Jenkins is its chairman, as it seems that there seems to be some element of man’s presence in any selected view so as a grand house or another equivalent focal point. In Britain and Ireland, it is hard to avoid human influence on a landscape but it seems even harder in England though featuring buildings pretty well makes this most obvious. Landscapes completely manufactured by man hardly are excluded either though the author is not a fan of such modern intrusions as wind farms, car parks and the wiring needed all over the place for modern living.
However, the National Trust was set up to conserve countryside and not the sort of old country houses of which it is custodian all over England and Wales. That only happened around the time of World War II and its role was sealed by the Office of Works (now English Heritage) being dissuaded from engaging in the same kind of thing by the government of the day in another time of austerity. It can be odd how things go with organisations at times.
There are landscape views without sizeable buildings in them too. The coastline of the south-west of England is an obvious example as is the Lake District. With his other books, it is surprising that Jenkins didn’t try for a thousand views because they have to be out there. After Cheshire just has one entry – Peckforton Castle & Beeston Castle atop neighbouring sandstone outcrops in the west of the county – and gets into the West Midlands section for some reason. Quite why it is excluded from that devoted to the English Northwest is beyond me and there are plenty of other sights that could be added. A number from between Macclesfield and Buxton come to mind: looking towards Shutlingsloe from Tegg’s Nose and looking north while descending from Shining Tor to Lamaload Reservoir are just two. Thinking about it now, views over reservoirs may not be amenable to Jenkins but it does highlight that there are so many alternatives from from which to choose. Of course, doing justice to each of them may have lead to cutting down the number so as to give descriptions of the chosen few more room to breathe. There are times when your cloth has to be cut according to your measure and so it seems with England’s 100 Best Views. Any new viewpoints are to be celebrated and there always are more than a few to be found in a book like this; just like the aforementioned television series, it too does not disappoint.