Rural southern England is, for the tourist, like an archipelago of island villages separated from each other by gulfs of agricultural sea - fields, hedgerows, trees, tiny single lane roads, footpaths, ditches, brambles, woodland.
Each village you pass through while driving is quaint, pretty, sleepy, and prosperous - pink/blue/yellow houses; ancient sprawling oaks on wide, perfectly trimmed greens; roadside stalls containing fresh eggs and honey; always a big 15th century pub with lots of BMWs and Mercedes parked outside; always an ornate, grand and beautiful church, impossibly large for such a small settlement and with an impossibly large graveyard dotted with yew trees; always a village hall with colourful bunting.
Then within less than a minute you have driven through and you are on the other side and in a different world. Hedgerows cramp you in, occlude your vision. Through gaps in the foliage you see fields sweltering in the sun; copses of brooding trees, big and green; scarecrows; deer; distant farmhouses and water towers. On a hot day with no other cars on the road and storm clouds brewing in the distance you feel as though this landscape could have been here forever, and indeed could be endless - that you could drive for the rest of your life and see nothing but more fields, more woods, more scarecrows, more dilapidated barns and far-off solitary dwellings.
Until you come to another village and a 30 mph speed limit sign and the pattern repeats.
As a northerner and a city dweller I find this landscape both beautiful and disturbing. The truth is, I am more comfortable in the north's wild moors and bleak, windswept hills than I am in this bucolic bricolage where the furniture of a rural idyll - the hedges, fields, and country lanes - seem almost to crowd you in and swallow you. You are not being welcomed into rural bliss. You are darting from village to village, hoping that somewhere in between you don't stray down the wrong road and get gulped down into a timeless, measureless void - a countryside labyrinth from which there is no return and that will hold you suspended like an insect in amber for the rest of eternity.
I envisage a setting in which the people dwell in small villages between which are fields and woodlands carefully husbanded by things that are malevolent and strange. The village-dwellers never stray beyond their boundaries unless they can possibly help it, and when they do, they always stick to the tried and true paths. They never go over that style, or go down that side track, or go into that copse. And as soon as they see somebody out there, working in the fields or walking down a track, hoe in hand, they freeze - or flee in terror. They live surrounded by the fear of long, hot, hazy afternoons when the fields doze in the heat; of mornings cool with mist and dew when the dwellers of the farmland are abroad; of the sudden eruption of motion as wood pigeons are disturbed by someone walking through the trees; of the distant sound of gunfire - pop pop pop - and bugles that signal a hunt has begun...