Saturday, 30 July 2011

Alison Uttley Country Things

Alison Uttley is one of my favourite countryside writers so when a collection of her books came up for sale I was first in the queue. If you haven’t discovered her books yet, or you haven’t read anything by her for a while I can thoroughly recommend them.

This is from Country Hoard Published in 1943

In the woods were myriads of bluebells, and I ran through them on my way to school, with singing birds and peeping squirrels and bright-hued pheasants my companions. On the way home I gathered bunches for my mother. They grew tall, their bells darkened to a richer blue, their great trusses of flowers curved downward, leaning towards the rich brown soil of the wood.

Every time I read those words I think about the farm where my brother, sister and I grew up. Each spring the woods would be carpeted with bluebells and my sister and I would pick huge bunches to take home to mum. She arranged them with branches from a beech tree that grew in the garden; the lime green of the beech looked wonderful with the blue of the bluebells.

Another of my favourites is

The farm on the Hill published in 1941…

Every window at the farm had its own peculiar magic for Susan. Each was a peep-hole into some enchanted scene, an eye opened upon the real and unreal world. None was homely or common place of dull. Every vista had some strange mysterious content, some secret which might be divulged if Susan were quick to catch it. The dairy window looked out on the water troughs, with the moss-green wall and the filbert trees. If she crept softly up to it she could watch the play of the water from the spring, and the latticed ripples, without the water being aware. She could see the thrush fly down to the trough’s edge to drink, and the squirrel leap in a flurry of red from the filbert trees on to the wall. From the parlour window there were the roses that nodded close by, and the garden with its wicket gate. Sometimes the gate opened, and her mother went in for a bunch of carrots, a stick of celery, a spray of parsley, unaware of the still ghostlike face and the brown eyes gazing down at her. Another window looked out to the yard, and this was indeed secret. It was such a peep-hole that it had a linen blind for protection, to keep the servant lad from peering into the room. It overlooked the dog-kennel, with Roger prowling up and down, and the barn with Dan pitching hay from the loft to the manger, or Joshua chopping sticks in the dimness with the big corn bins behind him and the stone bench by his side. The kitchen window opened to the loveliest view of all, hill and valley, and there Susan could see the grey shapes of rain sweep down the fields, she could catch the ghost of the north wind on its ruffling journey over the grass, or watch the hailstones spring with sudden vehemence out of the winter sky. 

And this from Country things published in 1946

There was the stable, a real house for us in winter, with thick walls and the warm strong smell of horses. The only seat was the “horse-block”, which was smoothed by generations of corduroy trousers to a silky surface. We shut the bottom half of the door, and left the top half wide open, for there was no window. The harness hung on the wall behind us, the everyday collar with one bell, the bridle, the belly-band, and traces slung on wooden pegs. The best sets of harness were of course in the kitchen, with the horse-brasses, and martingale, and pony-trap bells, shining and bright. There was warmth and friendliness in that place, the home of strong, much-loved horses. There was the odour of the life of those intelligent animals whom we loved so deeply. They were part of the family, they knew all about us. The stable was a kind of familiar little house, and a refuge in days of wild winds and storms when I didn’t want to be with human beings. 

There were horses on the farm and my sister was a keen and competent rider.  I was not so keen; I liked the horses well enough but felt intimidated by their size. My sister spent hours in the stables but I preferred the milking parlour where I could watch dad busy with the milking. The dairy cows were gentle creatures with huge eyes and long eyelashes; Daisy (named after grandma Daisy) was my favourite. 

Web site of the Alison Uttley Society

Update July 2016: All the books featured are now sold. March House books closed on my retirement in 2015, but I am still happily blogging here at March of Time Books. Your visits are always appreciated.


  1. I love Alison Uttley too. A Traveller in Time is one of my favourites- a fascinating time travel novel. I seem to remember a story by her about walking through a wood at night- maybe A Country Childhood?

  2. barbaraannefisher31 July 2011 at 22:36

    Hi Ali
    I don’t think she did the walk at night but she did have to walk through a wood on her way to and from school. I’m sure it would have been very dark on winter afternoons and probably some mornings. I think she describes the wood and the walk in a country childhood but will have to read it again to make sure!

    I loved playing in the woods when I was small but they could change from bright friendly places to dark menacing ones in a second. If the sun went in or it started to rain it instantly changed the ‘feel’ of the place.


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Barbara xx