nature notes

Ever since I was a very little girl I have been madly in love with the English countryside. The memories of my childhood are threaded together with a deep emotional connection to the woods, fields, coast, rivers and gardens through which I ran and played.

I am lucky enough to have sensitive parents who not only love the British landscape and its wildlife but know an immense amount about it, and who were able to teach me as a child almost everything I wanted to know about its trees, plants, birds, animals, agriculture, geography, climate and history.

I also inherited from them my lifelong enjoyment of books and reading, and not surprisingly, one of my great loves is nature writing. I have always loved those little tucked-away paragraphs on the letters page of the newspaper about the arrival of geese on the Mawddach estuary and the first celandine in the Cotswolds, and my first introduction to this gentle genre was through the wonder of Ladybird Books, in particular What to Look for in Spring, What to Look for in Summer, What to Look for in Autumn and What to Look for in Winter. Much of what I know about the natural world was learnt from my threadbare copies of these four little titles by E.L. Grant-Watson and illustrated by C.F. Tunnicliffe, and many of the words and images will forever be engrained in my mind.

Sadly these books have gone missing from my shelves over the years, but I recently discovered that you can buy prints from all the Ladybird books here, and so for my main Christmas present this year I was allowed to choose eight pictures to frame. Despite their slight lack of definition in reproduction, still for me they wonderfully convey the seasonal beauty of the England of my childhood memories.

C.F. Tunnicliffe is one of my favourite artists, who in my opinion should be far better known and appreciated. Like many of my literary and artistic heroes he's not at all fashionable these days, but he illustrated many classic works and is probably most well-known for Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter. His sensitivity of line and shadow is exquisite.

Another author whose work he often illustrated was the late great Alison Uttley, creator of Little Grey Rabbit and prolific writer of essays about the English countryside. I often get one of my Granny's old volumes down from the shelves for a bit of winter comfort reading.

She often writes about her own childhood memories and everything is tinged with a sense of magic and wonder.

My second best Christmas present this year was a long-promised copy of Susan Hill's The Magic Apple Tree, a collection of country notes from her cottage in Oxfordshire from my friend Anne, whose favourite book it is. I am reading it in very small doses to make it last.

In return I gave her a copy of another of my own favourites, A Year in Silverdale by Richard Norman, another beautifully written snapshot of a little-known part of England which happens to be one of my favourite places to go.


Gigibird said...

I too love the countryside and nature but unlike you my parents never bought me books....I am off to look at the Ladybird link.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I love Alison Uttley (have you read Traveller in Time?) and am so addicted to the susan hill book I have two copies, and unusually have not been able to part with the second one. Hope you enjoy it, magic writing.

mountainear said...

I remember those Ladybird books too. Do you remember the posters published by Shell which had similar themes - but always reminded us that we should not expect to see all the things together at any one time?

Frances said...

Well, all these book treasures are new to me, and I am going to see if my lovely little anacronistic library just might have some copies in its surprising stacks.

Thank you for introducing me to C.F. Tunnicliffe.

I will let you know what I find.

Happy New Year, xo!

Gilly said...

Those Ladybird pictures brought it all back to me! They were marvellous little books.

Did you know that West Park Museum ( has a permanent exhibition of Tunnicliffe's work?

Tina Peacock said...

I found in a charity shop a copy of Little Grey Rabbit makes lace & another accompanying book. I have put them in each of my children's memory boxes for when they grow up because I love all of the Englishness that they portray! Thannk you for sharing your enthusiasm with us!

Sue said...

Elizabeth - yes, A Traveller in Time is a wonderful book isn't it? I am loving the Magic Apple Tree too.

Mountainear - I do recall those posters, you would never get them now, would you, alas. I am becoming very nostalgic in my old age!

Good luck Frances - soon I shall be browsing the NYC bookshops myself! :-)

Mum - you are always full of surprises! Looking forward to seeing that exhibition.

Little Grey Rabbit forever!

Jackie said...

What an absolutely lovely post. I love the English countryside too and Silverdale is one of my favourite places..very underrated but a well kept secret too.
As for the you remember the 'shell' English countryside nature posters? We always had one up at school.I'm sure they must have been by Tunnicliffe. Have a Happy New Year

Sue said...

Thanks Jackie - you are much nearer Silverdale than me, you lucky thing!

Threadspider said...

Ooh that lovely post took me back to my childhood and a similar love, still burning, for the English countryside. Thank you.

Unknown said...

I have some detective work to do and wonder whether you may be able to help me. When I was four years old, I was given the Ladybird book of The Farm, illustrated by C F Tunnicliffe. I still have it and even though it was an "early reader" pick it up as often now as I did then: I still can't resist the illustrations as they are pure escapism to me. Recently, working on the notion that the farm seems to be a real one, I've tried to locate it using all manner of leads which ultimately end in blind alleys. I wonder if you might fare any better. Think of the Cotswolds or perhaps the Peak District. If you have any luck or suggestions, please email me at