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Appreciating our countryside


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Walking in the countryside... what's there not to like?

Delegates at last month’s CPRE conference in Birmingham were urged to encourage more people to engage with the countryside. Here CPRE Essex vice-chairman Tricia Moxey does her bit and extols the joys of rural walking, highlighting the benefits it can bring to our overall well-being.   

Recent publicity has been encouraging us to spend time outside as it brings many health benefits, providing a welcome antidote to the stresses of modern life.
We are fortunate that the countryside of Essex is so varied, ranging from coastal marshes and magnificent seascapes to significant acres of productive farmland, thriving vineyards, historic gardens, nature reserves, country parks and ancient woodlands.
With more than 6,000 kilometres of public rights of way in Essex, you are spoilt for choice of footpaths, bridleways and byways to help you explore so many locations. Details of these can be seen on the interactive map here
Sadly, many people have lost any close connection with the land and the rich language used to describe its features. Robert Macfarlane’s books Landmarks and The Lost Words are collections of some of these words – fantastic glossaries of descriptive terms most of which are no longer part of our everyday conversations.
Our environmental literacy has almost disappeared at a time when our concerns for its protection have never been greater.
Standing on a vantage point and viewing a landscape spread below, innumerable features can be seen. Words on an Ordnance Survey map reveal the range of human impact: earthworks, grove, park, plantation, farm, common, green lane, moat, castle or golf course.
A Roman road or dismantled railway might define past routes now replaced by motorways or trunk roads. Springs feed brooks, while water flows into wider meandering rivers.
Willow stub, pollarded ash or elm describes specific trees marking ancient boundaries; coppices describe manged ancient woodlands. Maps are littered with wonderful place names to intrigue.
The pleasant weather of the summer can encourage exploration of the countryside on foot. So do leave behind the outshifts (urban fringes) and, armed with an appropriate OS map and willing companions, set off to explore the Essex countryside. See how many fascinating features you can spot.
To add to your enchantment of the day, experience wewire as the overhead foliage moves in the wind making a suthering sound. On your travels, notice a socker, the rift in an oak caused by a lightning strike, or some frith growth of thorns or bramble spreading out from a neglected hedge.
Then find the nearest teashop or pub and drop some new words casually into conversation while you enjoy suitable refreshments.
If you are uncertain about striking out on your own, visit Essex County Council’s website, which has plenty of useful information (click here to learn about visiting your country parks). In addition, many groups organise regular guided walks, including the Ramblers (click here)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019