The thing about living in the English countryside, is that, most of the time, it can feel as though you are living in the pages of a book or some such fantasy. At least, that's what it feels like to me, anyway.
In the mornings, when I take the dog for a walk, it is pitch black, the lane out of the village often shrouded with mist, the hedgerows a looming dark mass on either side. The birds are just starting to stir, their anxious twitterings blown through the air by the wind, rattling and sushing the branches; if there is a moon, it is enveloped by shredded silver clouds. If a Woman in White were to step out into my path, or a Baskervillian hound were to start baying from the undergrowth, I don't think I'd bat an eyelid. (Then I come home, walk through the back door and am hit by a barrage of “Mum, where's my tie? Mum, did you put a wash on, I need my sports kit for today! Mum, someone's used up all the hot water and I haven't had my shower yet! Mum, there's no muesli left.” And I wonder if Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins ever had mornings like that.)
Then there are the mornings when the frost is thick as snow on every twig and branch, when the fields are cloaked in a thick white mist and you know that the Snow Queen is out there somewhere, casting an icy and cynical eye over the landscape. (and you threaten to ground any child who even thinks of giving a rendition of the world's worst fart song.) When (and if) the sun comes out, firing the frost into a rosy, golden sparkling, you feel like Cinderella at the end of the ball, realising that dreams may come true after all!
When the fields are covered with snow, each branch of every tree painted with a line of white, you are back in the land of Narnia, looking out for lampposts and wardrobe doors; walking through the village, seeing the thick white icing on the roofs of thatched cottages, on the gravestones of the churchyard, along the old stone walls, you have to blink, and stare again to remind yourself that yes, this is where you live, you haven't just been eaten by a Christmas card.
The other afternoon, as I was walking back down the lane, the sun was slanting over the fields from a pink, rain-washed sky, making Bonnie's purple hedgehog ball ($3 from Pets at Home) shine with a golden, translucent splendour, turning the asphalt into a shining lavender ribbon winding down towards the village and I found myself watching for the Highwayman to come riding, riding, riding....
During the Spring, walking around amongst the cottage gardens, bursting with daffodils and spring roses and buttercups and tulips, I am back in the world of Hilda Boswell, amongst her Little Bo Peeps and her catkins, the Contrary Marys, the fairies and little folk (if you don't know what I'm talking about then GOOGLE)
Come summer, it's all Cider and Rosy, and, if I squint as I walk over the fields, I can see Oswald of the WouldbeGoods setting out on some disastrous mission, gingerbeer and fruit cake on board. Walking in the grounds of Stowe, I am in constant expectation of bumping into Mr Darcy or Mr Bingley, or of maybe overhearing Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot comparing notes as they stroll through the grounds.
And you know, it's all so FAMILIAR. To this person who spent most of her childhood amongst the hot blue skies and red earth, the emerald bush and golden, singing grasses of Africa, or the dry silent grandeur of the desert, I feel more at home here than I had ever expected. Yes, I know I spent some time in England before, but mostly in deepest suburbia. This familiarity comes mainly from the pages of books, from stories written mostly in the 19th and 20th century – and, whatever people might say and in spite of all we humans are doing to destroy it all - it's still all there!
Unbelievably and beautifully, still there.