Walking with the Brontës in West Yorkshire

By (author) June BuckleyBy (author) Norman Buckley


Excerpt from book

For something so rooted in a fixed place, our perception of landscape is surprisingly fluid. Landscape is a kind of riddle: it changes with every cloud and mood, yet it is timeless and stationary. In a way landscape is an endless conversation between the immensity of the geologic land and the bubbling lives lived and shaped upon it. To understand landscape, you need to follow the natural flows of land, water, climate and people and the accumulated memories and associations that swirl around in each place.



When it comes to trying to work with landscape, the task can be as much about ideas and attitudes as physical form. Landscape architecture essentially deals with a trinity of land, life and the stories each tells about the other. The key is to listen to the stories and then continue the tale, allowing the memory and imagination of what has gone before to inspire fresh design in the evolving pattern.



The landscape historian and Enigma code cracker Mavis Batey introduced me to the subtleties of Alexander Pope and the clarity of his ideas about landscape. Pope completely understood that landscape is as much about poetry as it is about design. But more importantly he grasped the essential practicalities of surviving on the land. In his fourth epistle to Burlington in 1731 he wrote: 'All must be adapted to the Genius and the Use of the Place, and the Beauties not forced into it, but resulting from it.' The 'Genius of the Place' has become something of a catch phrase to cover the intrinsic character and personality of a place; but the 'Use' bit is usually forgotten. Pope was stressing that how we live on the land - the need to interact with food, water and shelter - is as critical to design as how we feel about it. Landscape architecture has real responsibility for how we use land and natural resources. It is not art, though it should be artful.



The eighteenth-century English Enlightenment was a scientific and philosophical shift that plunged humans into the centre of nature rather than allowing them an elegant separation from the natural world behind baroque patterns and divine benediction. It was the moment, at a new distance from the Abrahamic faiths, when magic met science. The combination of Isaac Newton and Alexander Pope was potent. Pope revived the classical nature gods of the Renaissance as a mystical metaphor and revealed beauty in well-farmed land. The Augustan poets had returned with sharp science in their ink. The basic operations of human existence were to be acknowledged and enjoyed as part of life and landscape. The view out from the garden into the productive countryside became as important as the elegant garden itself. Horace Walpole, sitting on his terrace sipping sherbet at Strawberry Hill, enjoyed the vista down the river to Twickenham as an essential part of his carefully constructed landscape. Twickenham was his 'seaport in miniature' and watching people toiling at the quays put the gloss on his own leisurely relaxation. The animation of the prospect was everything. Landscape was recognized as movement, life and interaction rather than a static and enclosed idealization of heavenly patterns.



The Enlightenment appreciation of landscape has come and gone over the centuries, but it feels particularly relevant now that we appear to be at a turning point. Abrupt and radical shifts in climate, finance and politics have unsettled our view of the world and its future. Together, they make an alarming mix. On the positive side, while we in the West have been relatively comfortable and untroubled, there has been little incentive to change the way we live. Although concern about climate change has been temporarily overwhelmed by worries about money and politics, our assumptions about growth and the way that we survive on the planet are all freshly challenged. The debate needs to develop beyond carbon to the way that we actually live. We have a chance to question some of the twentieth-century fundamentals of economics. Is it possible, for example, to pursue growth in fulfilment rather than growth in accumulation? Can we channel our energy into improving the quality of our lives rather than increasing the quantity of our possessions?



In the twists and turns of justice and politics, landscape architecture has a few insistent issues to raise, such as food and water. Some sort of sensible stewardship of the land has to be at the basis of any political and financial solution. How can we grow our food? Where will the water come from? What sort of buildings should be built and where? How do we cohabit with one another and nature? Can we hold on to the wit and spirit of what has gone before and let it inspire new ideas and design?



These questions are the basics of landscape architecture and this book tries to look at some of the issues raised in the work that I have done over the last couple of decades. It starts with land and water. The sacred Russian monastery of Solovki presents life on the edge of existence. For 5,000 years human civilization has managed to cling on to the rim of the Arctic Circle, delicately gathering food, light and inspiration in a place where humans struggle to survive each winter. It is a place of brutality and belief. The Saxon villages of Transylvania work on the same careful principles of stewardship, but face a more uncertain political and economic future. These are places of magical and monstrous histories that show how mere survival can frame landscape, buildings and beliefs.



Back in England, the Thames Landscape Strategy makes a striking contrast, exploring the evolution of a rich, fertile river valley and its ability to infuse a culture and an empire. It links to a repeating Arcadian idyll that, in varying shades, has obsessed the Augustan poets of Rome, the Florentine Renaissance, the English Enlightenment and contemporary developments in London and America. My projects at Villa La Pietra in Florence, the Oxford and Moscow Botanic Gardens, the Chelsea Barracks in London and Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania explore these ideas.



From land and water, we move to life: wild and human. Wet meadows around Winchester demonstrate the relationship between land, water, food and wildlife. The chalk streams of Hampshire provide some of the rarer habitats in the world and through these I show how landownership, recreation and design can combine to create a precious landscape of arrested adolescence. I then turn to urban life with projects at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the war memorials of Hyde Park Corner, the community garden of Hyde Abbey, and finally ideas for burying the dead in the City of London Cemetery.



The third part of the book concentrates on the spirit of design and the way it can link back to long traditions and the retelling of stories. I explore a personal obsession with landform and the many ways that you can carve and mould the earth. Inspirations come from the deeply English tradition of major earthworks from Iron Age forts, such as Maiden Castle, to the land sculptures of Charles Bridgeman and John Aislabie, and through to the magical works of Andy Goldsworthy. These have helped set my ideas racing for projects from Heveningham Hall in Suffolk through to Holker Hall in Cumbria and Boughton in Northamptonshire.



Finally I look at my own home ground and how the place has shaped the way I live and design.


Description for sales people

* Enduring fascination with the Brontes reflected in regular TV and film adaptations: Cary Fukunaga's film of Jane Eyre and Andrea Arnold's film of Wuthering Heights both released in 2011
* Walking with Beatrix Potter has sold over 11,000 copies.
* 'This book is totally absorbing from cover to cover and for any lover of the Lake District it is well worth buying' - Footsteps review of Walking with Wordsworth (9780711229310)