Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Far from the madding crowd

I live in one of the most densely populated parts of Europe and yet I only have to travel a few miles to completely escape from the rest of the human race. Today I took my son to Alfriston, where we followed the River Cuckmere down to the sea and during the whole walk we saw fewer than ten people. Here's the evidence:

Why aren't other people enjoying this beautiful landscape? I find it completely baffling, but I'm not complaining because the absence of humans means that you get to see more creatures. Today's highlight was a heron, slowly flapping its wings and gliding like a pterodactyl, oblivious to our presence. I'm not particularly interested in birds and Bill Oddie's Naturewatch bores the arse off me, but there's nothing like seeing something for yourself.

And it's not just about seeing but also hearing: grasshoppers, dragonflies, skylarks and the wonderful woosh of the wind in the reeds. God I sound like a boring old fart. I might as well start sewing on the leather elbow patches. However today was a reminder that for me at least, that elusive thing called happiness needn't cost a penny.

We finished where we began, in Alfriston. It is one of those picture postcard villages that seems perfect to the point of being slightly sinister. As we walked through the churchyard we saw children playing cricket on the village green, whilst in the distance an old man was pruning the roses around his cottage. I suspect that these people are actually Eastern Europeans, paid to put on a show for the coachloads of elderly tourists who want to be assured that ye olde England still exists. In the evening they probably catch the bus back to their sink estates and crack dens. On the other hand, maybe Alfriston is as good as it seems:

The only downside is the traffic that thunders through it most of the time. Admittedly there aren't many cars in this photo, but that is because I would have been run over if there were. If you visit Alfriston, make sure you visit the award-winning independent bookshop Much Ado Books. They opened relatively recently and show that there's still room for new independent booksellers if they are imaginative and passionate about what they do (I also suspect that they weren't short of a few quid). You can visit their website here.


bye bye bellulah said...

Looks serene.

The UK has a density of 244.9 people per sqkm. Only Japan (338.4) and India (328.9) of the big places are more densley populated. The world as a whole, 42.9, the US 31.7. Scary when you think about the UK's open spaces and mountains and coastal areas that are fairly sparsely populated.

I wonder if some of the nostalgia for times gone by is that there was more room to stretch?

Steerforth said...

I'm sure that's part of it. I'm wary of imposing my views on others: when I go to a beach I will happily walk for 30 minutes to find a small bay where there aren't any other people, but lots of people seem to actively enjoy being part of a crowd.

I remember being the only person on the upstairs of a bus. A couple got on and sat immediately behind me. Why?

bye bye bellulah said...


I remeber seeing an illustration in a body language book some years ago where those brought up in villages would greet new people at a couple of metres distance, in towns with a handshake but at arms length, and those raised in cities would come in for a close (arms bent) handshake.

Leebot said...

wow-what a weird and small world! I have been enjoying your blog since my sister linked to it on hers, and now you mention Much Ado books. I used to shop there all the time when they were in Marblehead, MA!! I knew they sold up to move to England but hadn't heard anything else. The store in MA is still a bookstore and is now called Artists and Authors and I still play with DJ the cat when I go there!

Steerforth said...

That's spooky! But in a good way.