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A Sense Of Place

We have been blessed to have lived here for over 20 years. Tucked right in the southeasternmost corner of Somerset we're surrounded by gently folding hills and valleys, streams and hedges.

It's not entirely bucolic, of course; this is a working landscape, and always has been. A few hundred years ago we would have been on the edge of the great deer forest of Selwood, and the land hereabouts would have been wood pasture. You can still see the occasional great pollarded oak, marooned in the middle of a field. There are some late medieval hedges left too, flailed half to death and struggling with snowberry. These are as nothing to the iron age hedgerows around our previous house, a few miles away over Creech Hill.

We now look east across to Penselwood ridge. Alfred's Tower, an 18th century folly, dominates the skyline. Some say it's close to the site of St. Egbert's stone, although that's more likely to be in nearby Kingston Deverill. It would have been a great spot for Alfred to have lit the beacon to gather the fyrd to march to Edington in 878. Over 200 years earlier Cenwalh, king of the Wessex Saxons, defeated the Britons in a battle on the southern end of the ridge, where later the Normans built three motte and bailey castles.

Alfred's Tower is on the Hard Way, which our lane joins. This - also known as the Harrow Way - is one of Britain's oldest roads. Almost incredibly, it ran all the way across southern England from at least the Iron Age, and probably the Neolithic. 

There's a lot of pre-history hereabouts; you don't even have to drive as far as the magnificent Whitesheet Hill, with its stunning archaeology and botany. On the western edge of Salisbury Plain, it would have been less than 6 miles away up the Hard Way. It's classic chalk downland though - a long way away from our heavy clay.  

We live in an extraordinarily rich landscape, historically and culturally. I suppose nearly all the people working in it over the last 2000 years would have been pretty much unaware of it, although they would have had a strong sense of the kind of localism* championed by environmentalists from Roger Scruton to Common Ground. But why now, when all this information about the history around them is only a couple of clicks away, why do people not know about it? Why, when we are supposed to value this kind of countryside as a precious and disappearing asset, why are we so incurious? And as we are so ignorant, so we are careless with it.   

We need to continue to fight to restore communities' local sense of place, although that's increasingly difficult as they become more temporary. An understanding of a place's historic context is easier to achieve, and that sense of connection would be a potent weapon in today's battles.  

 *Somerset has a long history of rebellion which evidences this!