Welcome to our virtual Book Club and explore the Hertfordshire countryside from the comfort of your armchair. Our volunteers have trawled their bookshelves for some of their favourite local countryside and nature-related books to provide inspiration.
If you have a favourite book about the local countryside, be it fiction, science, history or memoir, please get in touch so we can add to our Book Club.
Hertfordshire: A Landscape History, by Anne Rowe & Tom Williamson
One of our volunteers recommends “Hertfordshire: A Landscape History” for those interested in discovering more about the local countryside and its history. Photos, maps and diagrams help you explore the landscape of your area or study a topic in detail like ‘woods, parks and pastures’ or ‘traditional buildings’.
Howards End, by E. M. Forster
One of our favourite Hertfordshire books is E M Forster’s classic novel ‘Howards End’. Published in 1910 it is based partly in the countryside just north of Stevenage, where Forster spent 10 years of his childhood. He had a great affection for the area, referring to it years later as ‘… a district which I still think is the loveliest in England’. In 1960 a group of well-known writers wrote to the The Times deploring proposals to expand Stevenage over the countryside close to Rooks Nest, the house in which Forster had lived. The letter expressed the hope that the area could be preserved ‘because it is the Forster Country of Howards End.’ In 1994 the area was formally designated Green Belt. Despite the recent reiteration of protection for the Green Belt as national government policy, Forster Country is once again threatened. Plans to build 1,700 houses here would eliminate much of the area and impede the views Forster describes in ‘Howards End’ as ‘marvellous …. westward to the high ground.’
Be Your Own Landscape Detective: Investigating Where You Are, by Richard Muir
Another of our volunteers recommends an intriguingly titled book “Be Your Own Landscape Detective” by Richard Muir. It tells how to discover the history of a particular stretch of countryside by interpreting existing landscape features. Now out of print, pre-owned copies of the book are still available online.
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane
We love “The Old Ways” by Robert Macfarlane, a best-seller when it was published in 2012. Part memoir, part history, as the author follows ancient routes including the Icknield Way here in Hertfordshire.
Home Country, by Richard Mabey
“Home Country” by the acclaimed nature writer Richard Mabey lets you explore the Hertfordshire countryside and further afield from the comfort of your armchair. His encounters in the countryside around his home in Berkhamsted and beyond inspired his writing career. Why not try some of Mabey’s many other books as well, such as his first book ‘Food for Free’, or his biography of the eighteenth century writer Gilbert White, sometimes described as England’s first ecologist.
Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, by Oliver Rackham
Oliver Rackham (who died in 2015) was the leading authority on the history of woodlands in Britain. In this book he explores their history and ecology and how they were traditionally managed, and explains the difference between woodland and forests. In an earlier book he was the first to use the term ‘ancient woodland’ to describe long-established woodland mainly of native species, now universally adopted. One of our volunteers was lucky enough to meet him a number of times, and says he was a very likeable eccentric, and a gifted linguist who could quote from the original documents he studied in the medieval English of the time. He was usually dressed for any occasion in red or orange clothes. He went on to write several other acclaimed books about the countryside, which are all fascinating to read.
As I Go A Wandering, by Peter Waine
Peter Waine, Honorary Vice President of CPRE Hertfordshire and former National Chairman of CPRE, has written a new book “As I Go A Wandering”. Peter lives locally and his charming book features his prose, poetry and paintings about the local walks from his doorstep. He urges readers to get outdoors and discover the countryside right around the corner from where they live. And we’re delighted that Peter’s book helps to publicise CPRE’s ongoing work to protect, promote and enhance the Hertfordshire countryside for everyone to enjoy. Available from bookstores and online.
Cottage Life in a Hertfordshire Village, by Edwin Grey
Edwin Grey’s account of his childhood in Harpenden, “Cottage Life in a Hertfordshire Village”, was published in 1934 but recalled his life 60 years earlier, when Harpenden was a rural farming community on the cusp of change with the arrival of the railway in 1867. A fascinating account, the book has been republished by the Harpenden and District Local History Society and copies are available online