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The Landscape

Origins

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, A multiyear excavation led by Jean-Jacques Hublin, the Director of the Department of Human Evolution, of the Max Planck Institute puts the age of Homo sapians at around 315,000 years ago.

  • A little generalised and hugely simplified timeline:
  • Homo neanderthalensis had been hunting and gathering from perhaps 400,000 years ago.
  • Homo sapiens arrived around 315,000 years ago.
  • Home sapiens sapiens (us) may have evolved from around 160,000-90,000) years ago.
  • Homo sapiens sapiens started making the switch to agriculture around 14,500 years ago.
  • Industrial revolution started around 1760 followed by several technological revolutions and then we arrive at where we are.

Putting this into perspective and using the more conservative figures Homo sapiens sapiens have been outside in the fresh air looking at the sky hiding in caves and generally looking into the middle distance and wondering ‘what is going on and how do I get from here to there’ for more than 90,000 years. Our cousins, those in the Homo species, will have doing this for perhaps 2.5 to 3 million years ago.

That is an awful long time outside.

Taken that Homo sapiens sapiens have been around for 90,000 years and the industrial revolution started at 1760 means that we started to be inside with a roof over our head more hours during the 24 hours of our earth day rather than being under the sky is less than 300 years. Approximately .003% of the time.

That is not very long inside.

Even with my wildly inaccurate maths and approximate dates we have been staring at the horizon for a lot longer that at the mantle piece/ TV/computer/dog or whatever. We are used to the outside world, how it moves, it is what we walk on and the secure feeling of standing on solid ground. We think that the sunrises over the horizon even though we know that it is the earth spinning with speeds of 1,037.5646 miles per hour or 1,669.8 km/h (at the equator). We take it as our static reference point. We have evolved for most of our history outside.

The landscape

For me the landscape is an intrinsic part of our make-up and psyche and has been for thousands of years. We also have an internal landscape which is used on a prosaic, but vitally important level, to remember where the fridge is and we have the landscape of our minds, hearts and emotions that help shape who we are and what we do. The landscape we live in affects and moulds us and we can call upon it to reflect our moods, enhance our feelings or change our minds. Look around you we are a product of our environment. As such the environment both inside our heads and outside our front door can change, be an inspiration or simply make us happy. Who we are who we think we are, who we think others are and so on. This can be used to alter what we do by changing things in our landscape. The analogy can become complex but worth thinking about as we are the sum of our thoughts and those thoughts can change minute to minute, second to second.

As we made the change from a hunter gatherer and then to an industrial and technological existence, living in towns and cities (approximately 55% of the world population in 2018) we adapted to the new surroundings and got on with it because we are a species that can adapt and learn new things and quest for new horizons. I believe that we have a visceral attachment to the earth and the landscape that remains and can explain many behaviours we have as emotional, sentient beings.

My landscape

I am in a fortunate position to live in one of the most beautiful places in Britain and in my opinion the world. There are spectacular and dramatic places all around the globe and I am not taking anything away from those places. I have also been fortunate to have travelled and seen some breath taking views and been inspired and moved by the world we inhabit. But this is my landscape the place I have lived and breathed most of my life.

Since a child the hills have been my playground and a constant iconic shape on the horizon. If I had to live somewhere else it would have to be a long way away as I don’t think I could pass and carry on to a different home knowing that I once lived there. It would break me. Growing up I did everything in and on the hills, as many people in Malvern do. Whatever the weather or mood, the hills are the perfect place and with a range of around 14 miles the terrain and vegetation offer every possible setting for whatever feelings abound at the time. Walking from one end to the other, which again I have been able to and still do, can change your feelings both subtly and dramatically.

  • If its sunny – go on the hills
  • If its raining – go on the hills
  • If its snowing – go on the hills (you try and stop me) 
  • If I feel happy – go on the hills
  • If I feel sad – go on the hills
  • If I have no idea what is going on anywhere or with anything – go on the hills
  • If there is a birth – go on the hills
  • If sadly there is a death – go on the hills
  • I think you get the idea….errrrrr – go on the hills

My feet feel right up there, there is no other place that I have felt it quite like that. The amount of stress and worry that is ironed out as people walk the slopes must be phenomenal. Deals and ideas, mad happenings and fun stuff, happy and euphoric feelings have all been hatched or felt while there. The hills also heighten the sense of wonder and drama of who we are and what is going on in the wild world we live in, while at the same time keeping everything in perspective. This is not only something I have experienced. Many people I talk with have similar feelings, whether they have lived in Malvern all their lives or are just visiting for the day.

Standing on the top of North Hill, especially around mid summer is the only place in the world I have felt the earth rush toward the sun as it rises, rather than the sun appearing to nudge its way over the horizon.

On the north end, walking up what is know as the ‘Zig Zag path’ there is a feeling of leaving the madness of the world below. There are so many metaphors for the human psyche that fit in the physical traversing of the hills. From an early age I was aware of this and would often miss college or school and walk up the hills to spend the day up there wondering what was going on in my life and what to do next. Recently I put a post on Facebook which sums up the way it feels.


 

The Malvern Hills are an amazing place to see incredible nature in both microcosm and macrocosm. Its shear beauty and fascination. A cloud bust over Worcester from North Hill. From the top you are a peaceful observer away from the madness down there but close enough to get a perspective on it. Truly see our place in the landscape whilst being connected to it and separated from it at the same time. Awe inspiring. Always has been and always will be.


The quarries, which were halted due to an Act of Parliament in 1884 which formed the Malvern Hills Conservators to protect and manage the Malvern Hills and the adjacent commons, have faded into the landscape and many who visit now don’t know they exist. They are an incredible source of beauty and energy. Hidden spots deep in the hills that are often close to the steps of walkers but remain unseen. These again can be amazing metaphors. Standing n the West of England quarry or as it is know locally as Hayslad it feels like you are in the heart of the rock. The scale is small enough for the mind to grasp where the body is and big enough to give and incredible insight how it would feel to be actually encased in the rock. There are places in early spring that exude verdant greens of such intensity that you would swear they were being backlit even though they may be in shadow.

This is my landscape and the landscape of thousands of others. Each one taking what they need at the time. Some of my most incredible insights and understanding of myself, the world around, the universe and me and my place in it have come from walks on the hills. Often thrashing ideas out until it all seems to make some sort of sense whatever it may be.

It sorts stuff out

The happy times are blissful and enriching and it is a joy and a privileged to be on top of the world, feeling on top of the world. Walking on them is a source of great healing and understanding too. Over a decade ago my dog of 17 years died and I was devastated. It brought into question my existence as I had never know before. My emotions were not just all over the place, something had ripped them all out popped them in the blender and nonchalantly popped them back in again. I knew why it had happened but nothing made sense and no amount of thought or talking could ease the pain or confusion. There were days that I did not know which way was up. I walked and I walked and I walked the hills. It was the only thing and the only place that I had any semblance of equilibrium or hope that I would find peace or resolution. Grief is a physical as well as mental process and the act of being able to walk above the madness and connect with a solid lump of granite (and other strata), which popped up because the African and Indian continents bumped into each other millions of years ago, allowed me to understand and to learn and to heal. I have no idea how it works I just know it does, as do many other people. It not only applies to The Malvern Hills it it applies anywhere and everywhere. How we affect the landscape and how it affects us is a fascination that has intrigued me for years.

By going back and understanding my place in the landscape I was able to reconnect with myself and move forward. I am sure I would have found a similar place wherever I lived, but The Malvern Hills are a special place for me.

I know from experience that the external landscape has affected me in an incredible way and that we need those experiences to remind us where we are and how we fit in. Enjoy the walk.

 

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