My countryside heaven and hell – Mike Parker

The author of Map Addict reveals what he loves – and hates – about the great British countryside

My countryside heaven
There’s absolutely no bit of British countryside quite like Dungeness, that ethereal protuberance hanging low from the southeast coast of England. At the age of eight I bought the local Ordnance Survey map in order to admire its oddness, though it took a further 30 years until I finally got to see it for real. It was well worth the wait. Dungeness plays with every sense: the sight of the endless skies, the background hum and plunk of the nuclear power stations, the slap of the wind, the sweet wafts of honey from the sea kale, the taste of harsh salt.
It is impossible to be ambivalent about the squally shabbiness of Dungeness: you love it or hate it. No contest – even the nuclear plants fail to offend me, so naturally did they seem to sit in this quite crazy landscape. Indeed, they provide one of the Ness’s most pleasingly surreal sights in the patch of boiling sea where the outflows disgorge, attracting shoals of fish and clouds of screaming birds.
My countryside hell
Ten years of living in mid-Wales has made me come to hate much of what the Forestry Commission has done to our countryside. The men from the ministry looked at areas like this, saw a thinly-scattered population and decided it was entirely expendable. They didn’t twig to the strong network of ties – familial, social, cultural – that bound these areas tightly together, and so didn’t hesitate in destroying them, often needlessly. Such power to make or break lives and landscapes created some serious arrogance. There used to be a famous bandit’s cave near here, which appeared in all the old guide books because of its elfin beauty (its entrance was veiled by a waterfall). I’d been trying to find it for about a year, when an old Forestry Commission worker told me that he was in a party that blew the cave up in the early 1970s, detonated it to smithereens. There was no need to, he said. “Why do it then?,” I asked. He replied: “Because we could.”

Mike Parker is the author of Map Addict: A Tale of Obsession, Fudge and the Ordnance Survey, out now, published by Collins.
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