This book, originally published in 1939, manages to be both historical and forward looking at the same time. As the World War 2 approaches and an agricultural system that had been largely unchanged for years is about to be swept away, we are taken on a journey through the farmlands of Suffolk and lowland Britain.
Many farms lie ruined; many skills are being lost as people leave the land. The age old practice of heating and then shrinking a metal tire on to a wooden wheel is dismissed as "nothing" by a school boy. Old hand-weavers watch the world pass by has their industry falls to mechanization. The spread of cars through the countryside seems to show that all is changing. Horses become less common, footpaths go unwalked, people grow old.
While this book describes the final years of an agricultural system that had known the land well, it is not an entirely somber book. It feels realistic, if at times a little resigned. Small well run farms do exist, but they are harder to find, and the author finds a farmer without a farm a saddening thing. How will their time run now without the turning of the year?
If Adrian Bell had known of the modern term "sustainability" there is no question he would have used it. He questions the wisdom of burning local hedge trimmings in field edge bon-fires, when trucks deliver coal to the farm houses from far away. He sees how a single stream, used three times is one valley, can provide all the energy needed to mill the flour the local farms produce. Tourist landscapes instead of working landscapes, an unwillingness to walk the short distances that were once common place, litter where none should be, the community of shared hard work. These themes are local, sustainable and energy wise. We should listen to what he is saying.
The final chapters of this book do seem more backward looking, with a sense of understandable loss. But this does not distract from a wonderful, personal account of a landscape that would soon be changed very ever. Highly recommended.