Although I have been living in Norfolk for more than 20 years, I still feel a comforting rush of familiarity whenever I return to the Wealden landscape of my youth. It is a strange feeling, delivering an air of homecoming security and the sense that I have never really been away. It is the woodland in particular that helps to shape this response; this part of the Surrey-Sussex-Hampshire borderlands is the most wooded part of lowland Britain, cloaked with hazel, beech and other deciduous trees. These trees were the backdrop to my childhood. They were the architecture to youthful adventures, providing the dens and sticks for our games and hosting the wildlife and fungi that so fascinated my first nature rambles.
I often wonder if my attachment to this small corner of England goes beyond the simple nurturing it provided to my early years. A dabble of curiosity a few years ago led to the creation of a family tree and revealed that generations of my family had lived, worked and died within just a few miles of each other, here in this tucked away corner of the county. Knowing this strengthens my connection with the landscape, making it all the more personal and giving support to the possibly fanciful notion that this landscape is in my blood. The sense of historical depth adds to the feeling that this is my landscape and that I have been as much part of its creation as it has of mine.
There is no doubt that I am not alone in having such feelings and many readers will carry with them a sense of place that will never leave them. The increasing mobility of our lifestyles suggests that succeeding generations will have less of a connection with particular places. The links across generations will be the first to be lost and, with more people now living urban lives, there is a real risk of a disconnection between the landscapes that make up England and its inhabitants.
While there has never been a single ‘England’, the individual ‘Englands’ of succeeding generations have been an important part of our social fabric, delivering a sense of community and place. To lose them would be a terrible thing.