I always have the radio on as I’m working especially if I have a mundane, repetitive task to do. This afternoon as I was making samples for a forthcoming workshop, I caught an episode of Ramblings with Claire Balding on Radio 4 which was particularly interesting. It has left me thinking and I thought it was worth mentioning it to you.
The present series of Ramblings discovers how walking can be a way of bonding; with friends or other people etc. Today’s episode was with travel writer Philip Marsden and considered how walking could be a way of bonding with place. Philip Marsden has just written a book, Rising Ground, in which he explores why we react so strongly to certain landscapes and what makes them so special.
His new book includes thoughts about the area of Cornwall where he now lives. He talks about falling in love with the place – with all the feelings, sensitivities and yearnings that go with that state. It is, he says, an intense and physical response and one that is fundamental to whom we are – we define ourselves through the experiences and stories that we encounter in that place. It is an idea I relate to. The more you know a place the more you learn to love it. You become sensitive to its little quirks and changes; you can become upset by careless planning verdicts or if an eyesore is allowed to ruin a view. You’re elated when you encounter an animal or bird in an unusual place (like the first time I saw a seal up Sluice Creek in Wells far from their normal stomping ground …. Do seals stomp?).
So why do we react in such a way with certain places? Is it because of the associations we have with places we knew as children and the value we put on those places? Or is it the shape of the land? Marsden talks about geographical characteristics that have historically attracted people to a particular spot– he calls them collective places. These locations have an extraordinary presence that has always been special and consequently stories and myths have built up around them.
However what I love isn’t necessarily going to be what you love – your feelings won’t be the same as mine. Each one of us senses a place differently. Our mind and our eyes are in constant interaction – how we see, or indeed use all our senses, is conditioned by our brains and so our feelings for a place are personal. They are determined by prior knowledge and experience, subjective perception and selection.
There is much to think about and if you were wondering about the title of this post: Topophilia is a love of or emotional connection with place or physical environment. The photos are from a ramble of my own taken at Wells last weekend.