Landscape is a strange concept. It’s not really about the land, but about the ‘scoping’. A landscape is a view of land, a human view. It’s not a landscape until a human witnesses the land.
What humans see in a landscape depends as much on the human as the land. When European settlers first saw the vast prairies of central America, they called it a ‘vast desert’; a place to be avoided. A few years later it was a ‘vast grassy sea’; a place to be crossed. The tribal peoples who lived there thought this was ridiculous. To them, the prairie was a rich treasure of sustenance to be treasured and fought for. A hundred years later, the prairie had been settled by Europeans. By then it had become ‘America’s breadbasket’ and ‘the Heartland’. Once it was farmed, the European invaders could see the prairie’s richness for themselves.
On the southern slopes of the Ridgeway, the land has been farmed for over 5,000 years. Some of the fields are so ancient that the hedges that surround them (the hedgerows) are protected by law and subsidised by the government. All of the land around the Ridgeway has been farmed for at least 3,000 years.
This is a place which has been extensively witnessed. Millions of people – Stone-age famers, Iron-age traders, Vikings and Romans among them – have seen the views from the great chalk road. One of the latest visions is from Anna Dillon whose exhibition of Ridgeway landscapes opens this weekend in Berkshire. Her paintings of the Ridgeway are exciting, energetic and inspiring. You can see more of them here.
When Andy walks the Ridgeway, what he sees will be influenced by everything he has read and all the art he has seen of the area. But what he will see, like all the millions of people who have walked the trail before him, is his very own Ridgeway landscape.