Nearly every rood of ground in our country has some glorious or pathetic memory attached to it; its battlefields, its scenes of tragic events, or of happier associations, unite in giving a subtile charm to the land "set in the silver sea."
In order to give a fair picture of our country, we have sought for the picturesque in each of its forty counties; devoting generally three articles to each; but of course increasing the number of descriptions in those counties that have the greatest claim on our attention from their scenery or associations.The southern counties possess many beauties: a charming coastline, and fertile and lovely pastures. In Wiltshire are those unique and ancient memorials of the past - Stonehenge and Abury; Hampshire has its old forest famed in history, and its adjoining "isle of beauty," the Wight; and all possess ruins of fine old castles and abbeys, and two of our finest cathedrals - Canterbury and Winchester.
The shires round London are well called the Home Counties, for there is a great home charm in their quiet pastures and well-wooded lands; while in the very centre of our country our greatest poet was born, in lovely Warwickshire.
The eastern coast (with the exception of Essex) is the Fen country. But many a picture might be made from the Broads and slow shining rivers of Norfolk and Suffolk, such as the great Dutch painters would have loved.
The northern counties, inhabited by a race of different descent from the southern, are very picturesque. Their grand sea coast - with its glorious castle-crowned headlands - is extremely fine, and their castles are grand ruin or else stately dwellings.
In these northern counties we find some of the most picturesque scenes in England; for here are the mountains and lakes of Cumborland and Westmoreland, The mountains are small compared with the Alps, but their perfect proportion and symmetry make their height very apparent.
We remember our own disappointment at first seeing Mount Atlas from the Straits of Gibraltar. The great mountain "that casts its shadow across the western foam" looked quite low through its immense mass and width. The Cumberland mountains, by comparison, look higher than they really are. Some of them stand alone with peaked summits, as Scafell and Bowfell. Others are rounded, as Skiddaw. In autumn the colouring of these hills is excessively brilliant, for the bracken growing on them take hues of orange, crimson, and brown, in varied tints of great beauty.
The lakes are inferior in size to those of Scotland or the Continent; but they are varied in form, and either extremely beautiful or sternly impressive; some having woods and meadows sloping to their margin, others being overhung by inaccessible precipices.
The Tarns are small lakes, some of which are very picturesque. The water falls are not remarkable for any great descent of water, although called by the people Forces; but their surroundings of rock and trees make them lovely. The rivers are also picturesque with fine scenery on their banks, as the Eden.
Yorkshire is full of interest, not only from its delightful dales and wolds, but for its sea coast full of charming views: Flamborough Head, Filey Bay, Scarborough Robin Hood's Bay, and Whitby, are all strikingly picturesque. Even the manufacturing towns of the West Riding are picturesquely situated, though often concealed in smoke; Lancashire has two noble lakes, one is Windermere; and the district of Furness and Morecambe Bay present splendid prospects; Derbyshire has its Peak and its wonderful caves, its hills and dales, and grand old houses; Cheshire, its ancient city and many lordly homes.
Durham is the most picturesque of cities, with its wandering Wear, its banks, its cathedral, and its many historic memories. Of all these the North may be proud; but the counties on the West - those bordering on Wales, and the extreme South-West - Devon and Cornwall - compete strongly for the palm of beauty with the North.
Shropshire, with its ancient capital and grand river, is full of spots worthy of being the haunt of artists; Worcestershire, with its quiet, soft, reposeful beauty; Gloucestershire, with its ruined abbeys and historic castles; Herefordshire, with the exquisite scenery of the Wye, may have some claim; but the real rivalry in beauty occurs when we enter Devonshire and Cornwall.
Devonshire has the highest land south of the Peak; and its whole surface, varied by hill and dale, is wonderfully picturesque.
One of its peculiar features is the great plateau, called Dartmoor, from the river Dart, that rises on it. This great moor covers an area of 130,000 acres The grand waste, scattered over with rocks called Tors, is unequalled as a moor; it is the highest part of the granite elevation that extends to the Scilly isles. Surrounding it is a richly wooded and lovely country. Everywhere the most charming verdure decks the soil, and wild roses and honeysuckle overshadow the long, deep lanes in summer.
On Dartmoor are seen still some of those curious circles or alignments of upright stones, of which there are such grand remains on Salisbury Plain. Of the circles the best are the Longstones on Scorhill Down, and the "Grey Wethers" under Sittaford Tor. There is a fine cromlech, three pillared, called "the Spinster's Rock," at Drewsteignton, and there are numerous maenhirs or single upright stones about the moor. Devonshire has, also, some remarkable bone caverns. One is Kent's Hole, near Torquay - which has yielded bones of bears and hyenas, and the traces of its occupation by primitive man - another at Chudleigh; one at Oreston, near Plymouth, and another at Brixham.
Cornwall, the last British stronghold - the county of old romance, and of singular superstitions - has a peculiar, though sometimes savage beauty. Its stern and rock bound coast, washed by a mighty sea, which has carved the rocks into grotesque forms by the beating of the relentless waves, is sublimely picturesque; whilst its moorlands, with their giant boulders and Tors, its waste land, its woody valleys, and its dancing streams, present many varying forms of beauty.
And now we approach the Land's End - that magnificent point of grand rocks that so perfectly completes the fair land of Albion - the White Island. In the far distance we distinguish the Scilly isles; once, old tradition tells us, united to England by a fair and fertile tract of country - the Arthurian Lyonesse, The inundation that severed them from the mainland happened, according to the "Saxon Chronicle," in 1099. Stow, who wrote his "History of England" in 1580, records a very high tide in that year. "The sea broke in over the banks of the Thames, and other ryvers, drowning many towns and much people," he says, "with innumerable numbers of oxen and sheepe, at which time the lands in Kent that sometime belonged to Duke Godwin, Earl of Kent, were covered with sandes and drowned; which are to this day called the Goodwyne Sandes." Thus we see there must have been an inundation; to what extent it affected the Land's End, we do not authentically know.
We have thus given a general glance over England before offerring more perfect pictures to the reader; and we hope that our book may awaken or inspire a greater love for our glorious and beautiful country, and that our hearts may echo the inspiring words: -
To fight for such a land?"
I found this volume on a table at a church fete in Beecroft when I was around 14 years old. It was scanned from the original volume, converted to text, corrected and converted into a website over a long period from 1999 to 2004. The work was begun on a Powermac 8100 and finished on a generic PC running Red Hat Linux. I would like to dedicate this work to the memory of my father Neill Spong, who never went to England, had no interest in English history, but who loved old books and respected hard work and perseverence.
Matthew Spong, April 2004