I have to confess that history was never my favourite subject at school, which was a strange sensation for me. I loved school and enjoyed all the other academic subjects, my favourites being mathematics and geography. But history and I just didn’t gel. I found it difficult to concentrate in class, impossible to absorb the various dates and events and failed to see the significance to my life. History simply remained a mystery to me...
That was until my husband and I started walking as a serious hobby and now as a career. We walk all over the country for our web and App walking guides business, iFootpath. And guess what? Walking makes history fun! Every landscape tells a story as you are taken on a journey through history with Iron Age hill forts, ancient burial mounds, monastery ruins and old mine workings littered across the countryside.
The idea of being able to appreciate the past from the marks left behind in the landscape brings to mind my fascination with dogs and their senses. On the face of it we share exactly the same five senses as our canine pals: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. But the reality is that the sensitivity of a dog’s sense of smell opens up a whole new world.
The other four senses – sight, touch, taste and hearing – can only ever really give us reliable information about the here and now. With smell, however, it is another story. Smell can tell us what we cooked in the kitchen last night or that the grass has been freshly cut a few hours earlier.
Imagine then being a dog and being able to take this to the furthest extreme. Dogs possess a sense of smell that provides them with the history of a place, that we as humans can only envy. Imagine being able to tell that a badger passed over a footpath last night or that humans held a BBQ in this clearing last week. Now that really does bring the past to life!
As a human, however, I can now be content with exploring the visual clues within the landscape that reveal its longer term history. I take great joy in discovering the landscapes that inspired JMW Turner to paint, appreciating the sheer effort that must have gone into building some of our finest ancient buildings (often built by hand) or uncovering the industrial heritage that has made Britain the civilised place we know today.