With industrialisation and overcrowded cities, it’s important to take care of those bits of countryside.

Earlier this week I walked for half an hour beside some large and beautiful lakes that are an important natural feature quite close to my home. They are part of a conservation area and are served by well mown pathways. They have discreet signposts indicating places close by of particular interest. The whole conservation area is large, and easily accessible by car, or (my choice on this occasion) the guided bus which has become an important feature of the transport arrangements between Cambridge and its neighbouring towns and villages.

On other days I have chosen to walk across fields located just across the road from my home. They are used to graze cattle, and to grow hay, but they are fully open to the public, and, again, are well signposted.

People walk in these areas for all kinds of reasons. Some go daily to exercise their dogs. Others walk because they are enthusiastic about conserving the countryside. Others take serous exercise, running where I prefer to walk. Others, like me, just walk.

Interestingly, the two areas with which I am familiar, and which are undoubtedly attractive, do not get crowded. One of the attractions of walking in them is that one does not meet large numbers of people.

One of the remarkable things about the two areas which I have been describing is that they are both close to Cambridge — a quite heavily populated city with many scientific businesses, as well, of course, as two universities. If you travel into Cambridge and around it by road, you are conscious of heavy levels of traffic, and as a visitor to the city you probably would not think of it as having so much open land in close proximity.

Several years ago I became aware of this reality when I enjoyed a balloon ride across Cambridge from north to south.

As I wrote at the time in my Cambridge Letter in April 2011: “A most interesting feature of the experience was that it showed how great is the green area, mainly agricultural-land, close to Cambridge. We often think of this region as being highly developed, with a large population and many high-tech firms located around the university hub. It is a valid perception, but it is good to be reminded that the population density does not at all resemble what some would like us to believe.”

My recent walks — which I am making a regular feature of my life — have certainly enhanced that perception.

Interestingly, the same kind of thing is true of most areas of the United Kingdom. There are, of course, many large towns, and industrial areas, but in pretty well every case you do not have to travel far from the town centre to find yourself in beautiful and uncrowded countryside.

It is not necessary to become a dedicated walker to notice this, or benefit from it. Railway journeys offer excellent opportunities to become aware of it. The railways pass through some of the most beautiful countryside, and you reach it very soon after leaving large towns. Most of this countryside is easily accessible. It is not possible to walk absolutely everywhere, but you do not have to go far from most town centres to be able to forget that you are anywhere near a town.

We hear a great deal about Britain becoming overcrowded, and of course there is quite a lot of evidence to support this. We also hear a great deal about expansion of towns (and increasing roads and railways) having deleterious effects on our countryside. For this, too, there is quite a lot of evidence, and it is obviously important that we take care to ensure that our rural areas are well protected. It would be disastrous if our fairly small country turned into a vast industrial city.

It would be disastrous, but quite frankly it is a disaster most unlikely to happen. My experience of walking through beautiful and unspoilt countryside, without having to travel far from the nearest town, has been a good reminder for me of what a great variety of landscapes we have in our small country.

Most certainly we should take seriously the need to ensure that we preserve it, and we should be grateful for the conservation areas that we find in many areas. Taking it seriously, however, does not imply that we have to worry unduly about the threat to it. We should enjoy our walking (or our railway journeys) without thinking that they will soon become impossible.

bill.kirkman@gmail.com

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