Numbed with despair over the threat to the fragile beauty of the Chilterns and the villages of Buckinghamshire posed by the new high-speed rail link, I went in search of solace. I badly needed a dose of that reassuring country writing which once enjoyed such a boom, but which now seems to have slipped out of fashion. For me, the first and only choice was J. H. B. Peel.
Thirty or so years ago, John Hugh Brignal Peel would have needed no introduction. For years he wrote a fortnightly column, ‘Country Talk’, for the Daily Telegraph, essays subsequently gathered into a series of books; he was a talented poet; and in later years he appeared regularly on country-themed television and radio programmes.
His style is neither that of a nature notebook nor the ramblings of a rural weekender. Rather, he revived the art of the essay and in doing so provided a true picture of what country life really means in our time, not only its surface but also its deep-rooted patterns and perennial challenges. He writes of farming and hunting; of shepherds and postmen and squires; of ancient monuments, historic buildings, modern motorways. Above all, he tells us of the things that rarely make news – summer sunrise, winter twilight, the look of the land. This is the pulse of rural Britain, recorded by a poet of whom John Masefield said: ‘Mr Peel knows more than any other living man about the life of the English countryside.’
J. H. B. Peel spent a third of his life liv
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