More downs

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I’d been meaning to read this for some time, and I’m mostly pleased that I have.  The author is an academic geographer, and his account of the evolution of the Downs (through clearance, interdependent sheep and corn production, the enclosure and high farming movements, agricultural depression, wartime food production, and the eventual abandonment of sheep for intensive arable monoculture) was definitely enlightening.

Brandon’s description of the cultural identity and ‘mythologising’ of the South Downs  felt less successful, partly because, while deprecating uninformed romanticism, he develops his own tendency to purple prose.  Even so, he can sometimes turn an ironic phrase:  “This belief that chalkland had a special place … was enhanced by its rarity outside England, so making it more English than any other rock …”

The final chapter is a somewhat depressing account of twentieth century tussles between conservationists and developers, between central and local government, and between agriculture and local pressure groups.  We all know who is winning, don’t we?

So I forgave the purpleness.  The chalk does engender a peculiar and passionate loyalty.  And occasionally causes one’s prose to overheat.

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2 responses »

  1. A nice summary of what sounds like a book I must read. I’m working on a piece about a journey round the Chichester Harbour watershed, and it alludes to several of the themes you refer to. I must try not to overheat – thanks for reminding me.

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