The words are those of mystical poet William Blake when staying in a cottage in Sussex, and the description can be aptly applied to this whole worthy production.
Written and presented by David Dimbleby, this six-part series has five different directors, but under the same executive producer, Basil Comely, the same guy who produced the excellent "Francesco's Venice". Thus, each programme is slightly different in some way - more thematic perhaps, or involving a lesser number of interviewees - but all of the episodes run together under the same overall format.
As with "Francesco's Venice" this DVD is worth it as much for its excellent photography - in all seasons, in all weathers, both night and day - than for its story. The landscapes are often breathtaking, and the camera has been used imaginatively too, for example intermingling older paintings with modern scenery (a feature of episode five). The original music is an almost continuous soundtrack, full of colour and brilliance composed by Andrew Blaney. (But did I hear music from The Lord of the Rings at one point?)
The six episodes are based on geographical areas, so to a certain extent the series is a travelogue as well as a documentary. The first, "The Romantic North", starts in the Lake District where Dimbleby introduces the change in attitudes to the landscape that took place in the mid-eighteenth century, when wildernesses were seen as places of great beauty rather than as places of barbarity. In fact, he rather too emphatically places the birth of the picturesque to the year 1752 and the author John Brown, before then going on to the rules of William Gilpin and the poetic responses of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The literary angle is one that often re-appears throughout the series: this is not just a programme about the painted picture of Britain, but also the literary portrait and the musical sketch too, though these are not so pronounced. Nevertheless, they are a constant feature, so that we hear quotes from the works of Emily Bronte, Rupert Brooke, John Clare, WB Yeats, Robbie Burns, Charles Dickens, William Morris, Rudyard Kipling; and the list goes on. As for music, we hear, in their geographical context, from works by Holst, Vaughan Williams, Britten, MacCunn, Mendelssohn (for Fingal's Cave), Butterworth, and Elgar.
As he moves about the country Dimbleby talks with a variety of people, from Helvellyn's mountain-rescue guide to a geologist panning for gold in the Welsh hills. Along the way he engages with farmers, wherrymen, tourists, and artists. Episode one covers the Lake District, Northumbria, Yorkshire; episode two ("The Flatlands") travels through Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire; Scotland and Ireland are the subject of "Highlands and Glens", the third programme; whilst the fourth "The Heart of England" visits an unwieldy mixture of places from Manchester at the time of the industrial revolution, through Derbyshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, the Cotswolds and the Malvern Hills; the fifth episode, "The Home Front", focuses on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire and Sussex; and the final part, "The Mystical West" visits Wales, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall.
The series officially highlights over one hundred paintings, covering in time from Gainsborough all the way up to the present day: there are interviews with contemporary artists Maggi Hambling and David Inshaw. Most are from the nineteenth century. The one artist who features in all six programmes is the magnificent and ubiquitous Turner. Using the pause button, you can appreciate all the featured works at your leisure.
The choice of pictures is presumably Dimbleby's own, although the series is a collaboration between the BBC and The Tate, and was linked to an exhibition of many of the paintings featured when the series was first broadcast. No doubt, there are complaints of omission from all parts of Britain about local painters who have been overlooked. From my own neck of the woods, for example, there is no mention of Widgery's Dartmoor scenes or Condy's of the Tamar Valley. Nevertheless, overall I found the journey enjoyable and fulfilling, and I learned a great deal. Many of the artists featured are well-known names; but equally many were new to me. I even had my opinion on Constable changed after seeing his interpretation of Hadleigh Castle.
This is in some regards a personal journey for Dimbleby himself. We see him on his sailing boat in Devon and amongst the landscape of his home on the South Downs in Sussex. There is even archive film of him and his younger brother Jonathan making a film when they were in the teens. But this personal aspect never intrudes too much into the story that Dimbleby has to tell. However, he does have a dangerous habit of addressing the camera whilst driving his Land Rover along the roads of Britain.
Dimbleby is engaging and erudite, often witty, commenting, for example, on how Landseer realised that a wealthy man would pay more for a picture of his dog than for his wife. He has a nice turn of phrase, for instance, while referring to Portsmouth he says that, "When Britain ruled the waves, this was her throne." And he is not a bad painter himself, as demonstrated in the first episode.
Overall then, a magical journey around Britain's scenery as seen through the eyes of its landscape painters.