Alex James: Joy of the countryside gets lost in translation

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

It wasn't until about the sixth or seventh time that I went to Japan with Blur that we managed to get out to the countryside there. "We'd like to go out into the country," we'd say hopefully, every time we arrived in Tokyo. To me, it was a perfectly straightforward inclination, but it didn't seem to make much sense to the organisers, our carers. "Where exactly?" They would say, diligently. "What you want to do in Japanese country?"

I suppose, having grown up in Bournemouth, I was a man of leisure from an early age, at my happiest fiddling about on beaches, on the sea, in the New Forest, the Purbecks where there is nothing remotely particular to do, where it's all just magnificent scenery, a fantastic stage.

It was as if, to the Japanese, a conscientious people, the idea of venturing off towards nowhere, going somewhere that is beyond the bump and grind, beyond industry, beyond the everyday, didn't add up. At least, it took some explaining. "Well, we don't really want to do anything; maybe walk around a bit, jump off some cliffs, throw some stones. You know, that kind of thing."

Eventually we got as far as a little spa town in the mountains, and of course it was well worth waiting for. There is nothing in nature that is not fantastically beautiful. Well, some parts of Iceland smell a bit eggy, but even those are unforgettable and look rather nice.

The countryside does happen to be the factory floor of farming but it is a paradise, too. There is a tendency to assess rural Britain only in terms of issues, problems, disasters. Even the phrase "rural Britain" is enough to make the heart sink – and I think it does, evoking squalor, poverty, deprivation – but as a nation I think we are probably better connected with our countryside than we give ourselves credit for. To me certainly, rural Britain will always be, first and foremost, a massive playground.

Shadow lands

I think I may have found the remains of a motte-and-bailey in the railway field – a Norman castle. I've been messing around all this time looking for an overgrown cricket pitch on the other side of the farmhouse and this has just been sitting there quietly all along.

The best way to investigate further is to take aerial photos when the sun is low in the sky. The shadows might well tell a story. Fingers crossed.

Digging up the past

Whether there ever was a castle there or not, there's a lot of "ridge and furrow" in that field, a gently undulating landscape, the relics of a medieval cultivation system. That these earthworks remain shows that the field hasn't been ploughed for many centuries. I didn't even know this until two weeks ago. Always so much still to discover.