What do we lose when we become a nation of urbanites? A connection to nature, sometimes – though not necessarily. An awareness of the seasons, an understanding of the farming year; a sense of community, perhaps, and of being bound to a particular spot by ties of history and blood.
Gathered from his long-running weekly column in the Church Times, Ronald Blythe’s Wormingford books are an evocation of village life that, as a city-dweller, I find deeply comforting. To say that is to risk making his lovely miniatures sound twee or nostalgic, when in fact they are pragmatic about the changes that are happening in our countryside; what they offer, though, is a vision of life that has deep meaning, meaning created quite effortlessly from art and literature, the natural world and the kinship of neighbours.
Of course, given their provenance, these short pieces are also about faith. Blythe is a lay reader in the benefice of Wormingford and Mount Bures with Little Horkesley – the Church of England parish in which his Wormingford books are set – and his awareness of the religious calendar and knowledge of the Scriptures suffuse each piece. I am an atheist – albeit one who was brought up attending a village church not too dissimilar to the ones he describes – but I love his writing not in spite of its religious content but because of it: for the way in which belief is woven with gossip, local history, nature writing and gentle irony to create a picture of faith that is personal and idiosyncratic yet connected to an English tradition that spans the centuries – and which, whether or not we believe in God, belongs to all of us.
Blythe has lived his life in the company of artists and writers, from Cedric Morris to Patricia Highsmith. As a young man working as a librarian in Colchester he became friends with the painter John Nash and his wife Christine, often visiting them at Bottengoms Farm, which Nash would later bequeath him and in which he st
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