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A tough choice: swaying palms or golden horse chestnuts?

Friday 07 November 2003

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, back in the Dales after a month-long trawl through South East Asia and Australia, ponders on a busy four weeks at home - and the simple beauty of rural England

WELL, we saw a lot. And missed a lot. Whilst we were lounging on tropical beaches, or watching brilliant rugby in the world cup, lots of things were happening in rural Britain - some good, some bad.

The 88 emails packing my in-box from various rural organisations made a long but interesting read. They also made me ask: why do city folk think nothing ever happens in the countryside?


Or this? Which do you prefer?

For in those four short weeks,

  • The Country Land and Business Association continued to campaign for better rural broadband services, accused the Government of still failing to understand the causes of foot and mouth disease after two years of investigations, and elected a Yorkshireman as its new president, Mark Hudson from the East Riding.
  • The anti-hunting debate still rumbled on, with alternatives to a total ban being scoffed at by back-bench Labour MPs despite the threat of mass disobedience by hunting folk
  • The Council for the Protection of Rural England stepped up its campaign against light pollution, which means that many of us can never see the stars even when they are shining brightly
  • The British Trust for Ornithology's influential magazine, Bird Watch, which has done wonders to raise public concern over the danger to our bird populations, celebrated its 50th anniversary
  • The Co-op, which surprisingly is Britain's biggest owner of farm land, quit dairy farming altogether - and if they can't make it pay, what chance has the small family farm?
  • And I seem to have offended the wonderful people who saved and continue to support the Settle-Carlisle Railway.

Now it is my normal policy not to apologise. I write some pretty hard stuff and often get slated in even harsher terms by readers (see Have your Say). That is only right and proper. But a recent piece about plans to cut maintenance work on rural railway lines seems to have been interpreted as an attack on the Settle-Carlisle itself.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the Settle-Carlisle to death. I think the Friends who saved it from closure are true heroes and heroines who achieved one of the greatest victories for the Dales since World War II.

What I did write was a warning about the growing threats to the commuter lines which are direct feeders of the Settle-Carlisle, i.e. the Leeds and Bradford routes to Skipton.

How many people travel to Settle - or Carlisle at the other end - by car or bus and then take the train? And, it now seems almost certain, these feeder lines face further cuts which will undoubtedly affect custom for the more scenic bits of the journey.

That said, let's get to the real point of this piece: the pleasure of being back in the Dales after luxuriating in allegedly some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

We have taken the funicular to the top of Penang Hill to see better what is rightly called the Pearl of the Orient. We have lain under the swaying palms of Bali and watched brightly coloured fishing boats casting nets for red snapper or prawns the size of lobsters.

We have driven a hundred miles of Australia's Great Ocean Road, where the Southern Ocean smashes into the rocky coast of Victoria (where there is a town called Skipton and a river called the Aire) and were stuck in a traffic jam caused by a koala bear taking a leisurely lunch in the middle of the carriageway.

We arrived at Manchester Airport in the early hours on the 13-hour flight from Singapore and a misty sun was just rising over the fells as we reached the Dales. In the valleys, we saw that the woods had donned their multi-coloured autumn coats.

It was then when we began to wonder why had we had spent all that money, and travelled some 25,000 miles, when everything back home was at it's gorgeous best.

Want to know which I prefer: a swaying palm overlooking the Indian Ocean - or a golden horse chestnut standing guard over a bubbling, babbling beck? Here's a clue: my favourite has conkers on it.

What do you think? Send us your views using the form below.


Disclaimer: Daelnet will endeavour to put up as many of your views as possible. However, we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. We reserve the right to edit any views that are published for legal or editorial reasons. Further, your details will not be used for any other services.

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