A green and pleasant land

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Hill walking in The Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, England

We’ve been away for a short vaction in England, spent partly in London and partly hiking in The Peak district in the Midlands. The main difference between hiking in the U.S. and in Britain is that in the latter, you’re walking almost entirely on private property, even in the national parks, and the landscape is almost entirely human-created. And, of course, there’s the 4:00 tea break as well.

In Britain, areas of outstanding natural beauty are set aside as national parks, but those areas are still privately owned. To maintain the character of the landscape, there are restrictions on what landowners can do. The fields you see here are primarily sheep and cattle pasture interspersed with small areas of woodland. Originally the land was entirely wooded, but the forests were cleared thousands of years ago to make way for grazing and farming. Today the farmers carry on a long tradition of sustainable husbandry, raising sheep and cows on grass. The paths, even in national parks, are public but are maintained by private effort. The British countryside is interlaced with an ancient network of footpaths, necessary rights-of-ways that country people have always relied on to get around. Stone walls and hedgerows divide fields, and stiles and gates allow free passage from one field to the next. To an American hiker, accustomed to traversing public land that is almost entirely forested, the landscape seems strange at first. And then you realize that it is both human-made and sustainable. Marvelous.

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I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

—- William Blake, preface to “Milton: A Poem,” used as the text for the 1916 English hymn “Jerusalem”

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