Celebrating country life

Johnny Scott.
Johnny Scott.

THE Countryman has written a new book celebrating the countryside.

Sir John Scott, of Hermitage Farm, near Newcastleton, imparts knowledge of country life gained over a lifetime in A Book of Britain.

The farmer, who became famous as the Countryman in Clarissa and the Countryman, the 2001-2003 BBC television series he wrote, said: “So much of the soul of the countryside has been lost to people because the accessibility I had as a child has gone. We must learn to love and cherish what people had before.”

The book came about after a meeting with a Harper Collins editor.

“I was there about another book entirely. We started to talk about how the countryside of my childhood was such a free and open place.”

Sir John, a child in the early 1950s, went on: “People were probably more in tune with their countryside then than at any other period of history because rationing had gone on since 1939 and harvesting the hedgerow was common practice.

“People knew so much more about their countryside.”

But a change in government policy saw hedgerows bulldozed, marshland drained and uplands going under the plough.

He declared: “The landscape changed tremendously and the access to the countryside diminished.

“In the 70s people started getting a bit wealthier and those who had spent nearly 20 years mending and making do now wanted to buy things. Home cooking was a thing of the past and it did colossal damage to British cuisine.”

Things have gone full circle he said, explaining: “Those same farmers being paid to reclaim land are now being paid to put it back to how it was. The countryside has become more accessible to people as modern communications allow people to live in Orkney when their work is in London.”

But the conservation lobby has led to the overprotection of the countryside, he argued.

“It has started to become sterile to people – people can’t walk across a field now for fear that they are treading on a plant that’s protected on an SSSI and the likes of bird nesting and catching butterflies are now seen as abhorrent” , he said.

The book covers the weather, forgotten folklore, how to read the landscape, tracking and observing wildlife, country sports from fishing to ‘swan-upping’, wild food, crafts and woodland, including Royal forest and protected oaks.

He said the hunting ban brought national attention to the countryside: “We have all sorts of benefits that curiously emerged as a result of a Labour Government which tried to create an ethnic minority where none had previously existed.

“The countryside is now seen as a source for good, a source of traceable food, of traditions and a country way of life and as worth preserving.”

A Book of Britain is a record celebrating that countryside which took two years in the writing, in a room at his home surrounded by his father’s old books.

“I just write round the clock. I lock myself in a room and emerge, bearded and foul, to see if there is anything to eat.

“It was ‘kent’, it’s knowledge I’ve lived with most of my life,” said Sir John.

The 600-page book, bound in leather and tweed from Lovat Mill in Hawick, was launched at gunmakers Purdeys in London on Thursday. And it includes pictures of Hawick Common Riding which Sir John took part in last year – “It is without any shadow of doubt one of the most moving and significant experiences I have ever been through.”

Book signings are planned for the Borders.