Thursday, October 06, 2011

2011 Streak Day 255 ( Thursday Sept 15th): Lungs of the city

2011 Streak Day 255 ( Thursday Sept 15th): Walk 3 miles, Time 1hr 5min, Weather - clear but a little cool, like autumn.
I haven't done this enough - take the car a few miles up the road to Ashridge. I have spent  many hours, over many years, mountain biking through the trails and have a deep affection for the place. It is not that I do not come here, it is that I haven't come enough.
Always I am surprised how people melt away. There are cars in the car park but a few hundred yards along the paths you feel as if you are alone in the middle of nature unchanged over the centuries. it is an illusion of course. The woods are carefully managed and the paths are well trod. Nevertheless you can always find somewhere peaceful and breath deeply. Yes it is somewhere to breath.
You can appreciate why the green belt around Greater London  (of which this area is part) are described as the lungs of the city. But that analogy bothers me a little. They are not the lungs, they are places of refuge, places you can go to escape, places where you can find peace and wider vistas. Here I am not part of any city, I am in an easily accessible area of natural beauty. 
The city lungs are the parks like Hyde Park - open areas that are part of the city fabric. In fact the phrase "Lungs of London" (which has since been generalised to lungs of the city and been applied to green spaces everywhere) was first coined by William Pitt the Elder in the 18th Century when London was expanding rapidly and losing many of its villages and commons. However the concept became more urgent at the beginning of the 19th Century when even areas like Hyde Park were threatened. The phrase has proved useful for campaigners from that time on.
It is sometime salutary to remember that all our green spaces have not been preserved by accident. They are the result of idealists, activists,and benefactors winning political arguments so the importance of green, open areas is enshrined in the planning system; both the parks that are the lungs and the surrounding areas which are the refuge.

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