Wednesday 2 April 2014

The English Idyll and HS2

There has been a lot of debate recently about the pro and cons of HS2, the high speed train the government may or may not build from London to the North of England. A main argument of those critical of the scheme is that the route of the track will lead through some of England's most beautiful countryside. The government has tried to address this concern by proposing to partially tunnel large parts of the railway through the Chiltern. For many, however, this does not go far enough.

Here is one vocal critic describing the potential effects of the new track:

This rail 'will slash like a knife through the delicate tissues of a settled rural civilisation... and will brutally amputate every hill on their way.'

Strong stuff, but I have not been entirely honest in giving the quote. It is not from a critic of HS2 but by John Clare, an opponent of the London to Birmingham railway in 1835.

The fact is that railways always change the landscape to an enormous degree. As W.G.Hoskins wrote in 'The Making of the English Landscape':

'Railways created as much beauty as they inadvertently destroyed, but of a totally different kind. The great gashes they inflicted on the landscape in their cutting and embankments healed over, and wild flowers grew abundantly once more' (p.264).

True, railways rarely create beauty in themselves, but, as Hoskins rightly notes, they often give us new vistas of the existing world, even if only fleeting ones glimpsed from inside a high speed train.

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