the Vale of Pewsey, taken from Salisbury Plain, the Pewsey Downs, clouds, a field of barley

The One About Wiltshire and Why I Love It Here

Hey there! It’s good to see you here. My name is Lizzie, and I am the redhead who is always wondering! Wondering about life, about this beautiful world, about words and light and colour and form. And mostly about how I can be the best me that I can possibly be.

I am a creator of hand bound books and of art, in the form of cyanotypes and photographs. I am also an avid journal-keeper and I’d like to share some of my journal wonderings with you today ….

The Place I Now Call Home

If you’ve been following me for a while and if you’ve seen my photography, then you probably know by now that I live in Wiltshire in the South West of England, in the very heart of Wessex, the land of the West Saxons.

I was born and brought up in Scotland and there are stark contrasts between the land of my birth and the land I now call home. Scotland is all rugged mountains and wild rivers; Wiltshire is so soft by comparison.

The highest hill in Wiltshire is Milk Hill, on the western edge of the Pewsey Downs.

It stands a lofty 968 feet tall. (Right next to Milk Hill is Tan Hill, which is the 2nd highest … it’s apparently 10.2 inches smaller than Milk Hill … that’s a fact … ask Wikipedia, if you don’t believe me!!).

Compared to the 4,413 feet of Ben Nevis, Milk Hill is hardly a mountain.

The Alton Barnes White Horse and the Pewsey Downs

Hardy Country

I sometimes miss the mountains and glens of my childhood, but I love it here in Wiltshire where the gentle, rolling countryside has come to feel like home to me. I feel as if I belong here in Wessex.

I have always been a reader. I have so many “favourite” books, and so many beloved authors, whose work I read voraciously. But asked to name just one, I think I’d plump for Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

Hardy’s prose is so lyrical, so absorbing, that I can lose myself in his books. Far from the Madding Crowd is also a huge love of mine, but I think that Tess is the top of my list. It’s deeply moving, and just the most poignant story.

One of the things that I have always loved about Hardy’s writing, has been his descriptions of the Wessex landscape that his characters inhabit. It is integral to his stories, and is as important as the characters who live there. I fell in love with the place decades before I ever visited it.

And now, how lucky am I?! I live in Wiltshire, three miles from Stonehenge, the very place where Tess meets her end. I drive through the rolling Wiltshire landscape every day, and I have countless opportunities to take photographs of this most glorious countryside.

If you’ve never read Hardy, I urge you to give him a go. And if you’ve never visited Wiltshire, I highly recommend that you put it on your bucket list.

Byways and Old Roads

Wiltshire has so many byways that you are allowed to drive on. These old tracks and green lanes criss-cross the county, and if you’ve got a 4 Wheel Drive (of which we’ve had many!), you can get to quite inaccessible places, and you can feel yourself far from civilization, and deep in the peace of the countryside.

A low POV photograph of a byway across Salisbury Plain, full of wildflowers
a byway across Salisbury Plain
My favourite off-roader, a Honda called Slinky, in the setting sun.
My favourite off-roader, a Honda called Slinky, in the setting sun.
My crazy husband driving through a big puddle on Salisbury plain.
the other (crazy) photographer!

When we lived in Marlborough, which is further north and east from where we live now, we used to go out exploring these byways on the weekends. We could drive around for hours and hours, and never see another soul, and never be more than seven or eight miles from home.

ploughed fields on the way to Barbury Castle
ploughed fields on the way to Barbury Castle
the view back down from Barbury Castle
the view back down from Barbury Castle
sunset on Barbury Castle
sunset on Barbury Castle

And even when we were on the “main” roads rather than byways, we’d be wending our way through tiny hamlets and pretty villages or through miles and miles of farmland.

Salisbury Plain

Of all the wonderful places in Wiltshire, Salisbury Plain is probably my favourite.

This vast area of land is a chalk plateau covering some 300 square miles. About half of the Plain has been owned by the Ministry of Defence since the late 19th century, and it’s used for training the army.

It’s a brilliant place for landscape photography because there are so few people around to get in the way of your shots! There are no buildings (apart from the odd military watchtower or bunker), and there are no pesky pylons or power lines to spoil a sweeping view.

I was asked once, “What is it that you praise? And in what basin are you pouring that praise?”.

I shy away from such words as “praise” because of their religious connotations. But you can praise and delight in things, without any of that, without the need of a “god”.

I praise beauty … in the world around me, in this lush, rolling green land that is Wiltshire. I see beauty at every turn here. The rise and fall of the Downs, the sweeping grasslands of Salisbury Plain, the verdant hedgerows, the knee-deep, thigh-deep blankets of wildflowers … all these beauties spark joy in me.

And joy is praise!

And it is all so perfectly beautiful, and I try to capture that with my camera.

Poppies in a barley field
poppies in a barley field
pyramidal orchids and daises
pyramidal orchids and daises
wild oats and vipers bugloss and poppies
wild oats and vipers bugloss and poppies

I do not range far from home, yet I never run short of things to photograph. I can look across the Black Heath or the Vale of Pewsey a thousand times, and every single time it will be different … because the light changes and different sights spark the imagination.

Because huge tracts of the Plain are inaccessible to the public, with only the byways being safe to travel on (unexploded ordnance and all that!), the Plain has become a veritable haven for wildlife.

It teems with wildflowers. Our Summer Saturdays are often spent on Salisbury Plain, and it is carpeted with different flowers every year. Some years it’s vipers bugloss or it’s poppies, some years it’s dropwort or it’s pyramidal orchids.

Every year, it’s a delight.

All This and Wildlife Too

I don’t do a huge amount of wildlife photography, I’m more of a landscape girl! But now and again, a lovely bird or a deer or a badger, gives me a photo opportunity I can’t resist!

This fine young red deer buck had one of the military flare parachutes caught on his antlers! He looked rather jaunty!!
This fine young red deer buck had one of the military flare parachutes caught on his antlers! He looked rather jaunty!!
This Barn Owl gave us a real treat and sat for quite a while on this post by the road.
This Barn Owl gave us a real treat and sat for quite a while on this post by the road.
This little guy was very intent on snaffling up something good by the side of the track. I got quite close. He looked up at me a couple of times, but he’d obviously found something just too tasty to ignore!

So, Those Thoughts on “Praise”

To walk through this landscape, is to step away from the crazy-busy rush of the everyday.

To stand and listen by a field of Vipers Bugloss and be surrounded by the loud, harmonious hum of bees, is to rest your ears from all the noise and hubbub that assails us in this chaotic world.

To drive along the old coach roads and byways that cut and bisect the Plain, is to travel where men and women have trod for countless centuries, a link to the past, even as I move forward to my next moment.

As I travel, I send Sky Larks up, up into the blue air and I bask in their song as they trill and hover. And I know that this song has been heard for millennia and will be heard long after I have turned to dust.

There is so much beauty here, feasts for all the senses.

If I were of a religious bent, I would say that Salisbury Plain is the church where I worship, the scent of wildflowers and grass, the incense of my rituals, and the voices of the birds and the humming of the bees, my hymns, my songs of praise.

💙💙💙💙💙

If you’d like to see more of my photographs, why not check out my Flickr page … there are a gazillion shots of Salisbury Plain and byways!

And if you’d like to know more about me, and my hand bound books, and my journaling journey, and maybe get some tips for your own journaling process, why not sign up for my Wonders out of a Redhead Newsletter.

Or you can follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

the golden time on Salisbury Plain
a byway snaking through the golden grasses, copses of trees
the golden time on Salisbury Plain

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