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Seeking Tranquility with Annabelle Thorpe

The Isle of Wight The Isle of Wight Photo: © Shutterstock.com

Annabelle Thorpe looks at the very real benefits of spending time in the peace and quiet of the countryside, and discovers some of England’s most tranquil spots

For many of us, this summer will have brought a renewed desire to don walking boots, pack up a picnic and head to the countryside, to make the most of the green spaces that dot our frenetic, overcrowded island. The peace that comes with spending time in the beautiful great outdoors is hugely restorative – so much so that the Government’s National Ecosystem Assessment this summer estimated that the health benefits of simply living near a green space could amount to as much as £300 per person every year.

Others might say such benefits are priceless, for however screen-based and sedentary our lives become, the basic human need to get outside remains; and there is little doubt it is good for our mental, as well as physical, health. One review of more than 100 studies showed the main reasons we visit natural environments are to get away from it all and escape from the stresses of urban living, while a recent survey by Defra found tranquillity was the most common reason for visiting the countryside.

But how do we define such an elusive quality? As part of CPRE’s work to create a national tranquility map, researchers investigated what the word signified to different people; for most, it meant seeing natural landscapes, along with birdsong, peace and quiet, and starlit skies. After all, tranquillity at night is just as important as by day – on a summer’s night, lying somewhere peaceful, looking up at a sky full of stars, can be a wonderful way to unwind.

While CPRE has long understood such benefits of the countryside, others are also starting to pay attention. ‘The value of tranquillity is being taken increasingly seriously by national and local policy-makers, including Defra, and in research by Government bodies such as Natural England,’ says CPRE Senior Rural Policy Campaigner Graeme Willis.

‘Some people have dismissed “tranquillity” as a subjective quality, but the work we’ve done shows it can be measured and mapped scientifically. ‘It’s not surprising our National Parks are the most tranquil places in England, but other areas, such as the Essex marshes or the Herefordshire marches, are also important for their tranquillity. Plus, we need to recognise places near towns and cities that can be easy for people to get to and so are important for providing a peaceful escape.’

Here’s our pick of some of the places that offer a delicious sense of ‘getting away from it all’.

The Peak District

A green lung for nearby cities such as Manchester and Sheffield, the rolling moorland, lush hills and escarpments of the Peaks offer a true sense of escape. Only eight miles from Sheffield city centre lies Stanage Edge, an iconic gritstone outcrop: ‘An evening walk along Long Causeway at Stanage is so peaceful; the views seem to go on for ever and you really do feel miles from anywhere,’ says Carol Robinson, Chief Executive of Friends of the Peak District. ‘Visitors and local people value the tranquillity, and we’re currently campaigning to get off-roading made illegal here.’

Alternatively, take a waterside stroll at Derwent or Ladybower, feel the history at Arbor Low – known as the Stonehenge of the north – or climb the 600m peak of Kinder Scout for awe-inspiring views across the heart of England.

Exmoor

The West Country may seethe with tourists in summer, but there are always corners of Exmoor that retain a tranquil feel. ‘Everyone is reluctant to reveal their hidden Exmoor places because we value the peace so highly,’ admits Catherine Nicholls, of CPRE Somerset, ‘but the overwhelming tranquillity and beauty of the walk along the Barle river from Simonsbath to Landacre Bridge demands to be shared.’ The diverse landscape includes heather moorlands, ancient oak woods and blanket bogs, which host a rich diversity of wildlife, including the famous Exmoor ponies. The area is also famous for its dark skies; Holdstone Hill and Haddon Hill are two of the best sites for a little star-spotting.

The Isle of Wight

People who only know the busy resorts of Sandown and Shanklin may be surprised to discover that the West Wight offers some of the most tranquil landscapes on the south coast. The island has an astonishing 500 miles of footpaths and CPRE, and others, are working to ensure its wilder areas remain unspoilt. ‘If you take the ferry that comes into Yarmouth you discover a very different island,’ says CPRE Isle of Wight Planning Secretary Professor Dennis Russell. ‘The stretch between Freshwater and Chale is the most peaceful, and is where the astronomical society has its stargazing evenings - the darkest skies are in this area.’

Romney Marsh, Kent

‘In the built-up south-east corner, Romney Marsh is an absolute haven,’ says Richard Knox-Johnston, Chairman of CPRE Kent, which is currently campaigning to protect the region against further expansion at Lydd Airport. ‘In Roman times it was flooded, but the sea gradually retreated, creating the Dungeness peninsula and the unique marshlands.’ The RSPB reserve here makes it a favourite location for birdwatching, but the vast open skies and unspoilt landscapes stretch for more than 100 square miles, meaning the area retains its peaceful, slightly otherworldly feel.

Northumberland

Officially the most peaceful county of England, according to CPRE’s tranquility maps, Northumberland is also its least populated. ‘It has a wild grandeur that is a fitting backdrop for its rather violent past,’ says Leslie Ashworth, of CPRE Northumberland. ‘Hadrian’s Wall, dozens of castles and several battle sites bear testament that this was a border county, where conflict was frequent. For the visitor, this offers the opportunity to visit historically significant sites within a richly tranquil environment.’ From the dramatic moorlands of the National Park to the spectacular beaches dotted with brooding ruins such as Bamburgh Castle, and the vast skies above Kielder Water – the darkest in England - there is a true sense of peace to be found in England’s northernmost county.

To find out more about CPRE’s tranquility work, visit the Tranquil Places section at http://www.cpre.org.uk/what-we-do/countryside/tranquil-places

An evening walk along Long Causeway at Stanage is so peaceful; the views seem to go on for ever and you really do feel miles from anywhere



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