Background Reading on the theme of ‘Changing Landscapes’. 

John Clare – Remembrances 

John Clare (1793-1864) wrote about the Northamptonshire countryside and was deeply affected by the Enclosure Acts where traditional ‘common’ lands were enclosed for private use. In ‘Remembrances’ (1832) he records his dismay at villages, literally, disappearing under the plough with the villagers sent on their way. Clare often didn’t use punctuation etc in his writings. He was quite popular in the 1820s and described, by one of his publishers, as ‘the peasant poet’. 

From Remembrances 

By Langley bush I roam but the bush hath left its hill 
On cowper green I stray tis a desert strange and chill
And spreading lea close oak ere decay had penned its will
To the axe of the spoiler and self interest fell a prey
And cross berry way and old round oaks narrow lane
With its hollow trees like pulpits I shall never see again
Inclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors – though the brook is
running still
It runs a naked brook cold and chill 

Michael W. Thomas – Shrawley Cross

Worcestershire poet Michael W. Thomas writes about how the people in some villages simply drift away to the industrial towns for work and better lives. His perspective is more historical but nonetheless powerful. 

Shrawley Cross 

Christmas Day

They left just before you got there. That’s how
the air feels, calming down after the last
scritch of a cart-wheel, protest of a van
suitcased and mattress-laden. Some on foot,
switching a cow’s rump, kicking chubby-kneed
through rut water, or marching on alone
with careful, unmarried bearing, bedroll
beneath one arm, a patching-bag—the sum
of what they’ll offer to first light elsewhere.
The drudge and muscle of the years cleared out:
mock, forge-apron, sponsored high-vis whatnot.  

Silence moves in on the crossroads, around
the bus-shelter, a chimney vague in trees.
It’s as though nature straightens for a while,
done with the need to pick up and shift over.
For the first time you hear how nothing breathes,
the song of nowhere birds from end to end
as the world carries on not passing through
and a day-moon only means itself, no more. 

Published in his collection The Stations of the Day, Black Pear Press, 2019 and included in The Poetry of Worcestershire, Offa’s Press, 2019. 

Claire Howland – Cannock Chase 

Claire Howland writes of the Chase today, painting a celebratory picture of its multi-facetted background, its changing use, the wild life and deeper histories. 

Cannock Chase

Brick remains hiding many secrets
Are blanketed by sun bleached grass, 
And moss which acts as cushions underfoot.
Magical and mysterious landscapes beckon, 
Pine forests standing erect like guards. 
A silver stream tiptoes down the hill, 
Taking memories off into the oak coppice.
The deserted army base, ruined and overgrown, 
Is invaded by lichen-covered branches.
Silver birches, fungi and wildflowers 
Take over where soldiers once stood. 
A fighter-plane buzzard wheels overhead, 
A woodpecker mocks the hammer of guns, 
The sound of a cuckoo signals peace at last.
Hooves land with a soft thump on damp sedge
As a fallow deer takes a triumphant leap…   

From The Poetry of Staffordshire, Offa’s Press, 2015

Cherry Doyle – Alive

Cherry Doyle’s poem, inspired by the off-hand comment by her nephew, examines the immediate sensory landscape of the deserted Brindley village and contemplates how nature carries on beyond human existence. 


“I wish we were alive.” Elliott Robinson (age 4), 2018. 

You could drown in the shadows here,
where branch meets root meets earth.
A step before the path constricts,
you hush to a whisper, push out a tiny palm
for the taking.

Perhaps you know some deeper truth
of slipping through evenings, soft as butter,
the wasted effort of a vicious word,
or how the trees fade and burst into green again
without us.

We’re just alive enough to see the sun
fall in angles through the rhododendrons,
to smell damp, fern-filtered summer,
to find the forest in a raindrop
suspended from a leaf.

Alive enough to feel the bones of the village
digging their graves beneath our feet.
To reach a hand into the darkness
and wait for someone to take it.

Published in September, Offa’s Press, 2019 

Writing prompts, warm-ups & writing exercises for use on the walk. 


Once you start out on your walk take a minute to check your senses. Stop and note down what you can see directly around you; note the sounds of birds, distant traffic; describe the feel of the path or a plant you’ve brushed by and the scents of plants or vegetation. Do not eat anything. A few photos as reminders might help. 


Make notes on how you feel while on the walk. You may initially be excited or anxious or it may be a familiar stroll in the countryside. Try to stop at various points and write down what impression the landscape makes on you. 


If you see birds and animals, reptiles, butterflies or other insects make detailed notes on exactly what they look like, their movement, their impact. 


You might also make a list of the plants and flowers you find. Some of them have wonderful names that tell stories. This research can be done later if you make notes at the time. Some of this detail may feed into your poem in the same way the poets above make pictures from various elements. 


When you get to the ‘end’ of the walk try to reflect on how you felt on your journey through the landscape and what this means to you. You may find mystery, magic or joy, be disturbed by the ‘near presence’ of the past and the deserted village or simply celebrate the diverse ecological threads that the Chase supports today. 

When you think you’ve finished your poem you can send it to Simon and Cherry at Offa’s Press.

There will be an opportunity to discuss or re-draft work, perhaps. Some we may select to publish on the website. In 2021 we hope to publish an anthology of countryside poetry, In the Sticks, that could well include your work.