‘Pray have you Rocks and Waterfalls?/For I am as fond of Landskip as ever,’ wrote Thomas Gainsborough from Bath in 1768 to a friend in Derbyshire. Anna Pavord takes his eccentric usage ‘landskip’ and makes a verb of it, coming up with the perfect title for a book that skips enjoyably across the British landscape, its history and the ways in which we have seen and responded to it. But this is no superficial skip: Pavord (best known for her hugely successful The Tulip) writes thoughtfully, with deep and wide-ranging knowledge, of the land and what grows on it, of art, literature and the history of taste. And she writes from the heart – the heart of a countrywoman as well as a country-lover.
This deeply personal book begins (and ends) with the landscapes of Pavord’s Welsh childhood and her beloved Dorset home. The first of its three parts traces the responses of painters and aesthetic tourists to the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and Snowdonia. Early visitors to the Lakes, we learn, turned their backs on the actual view in order to see it in a ‘Claude glass’, a small tinted mirror designed to give a landscape the look of a painting. Before the Romantics, unmediated nature simply wouldn’t do – especially for the absurd but influential William Gilpin, who toured the country in search of the picturesque and was continually disappointed by nature’s failure to live up to his standards.