In her book H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald writes [my paragraphing]:
“Long walks in the English countryside, often at night, were astonishingly popular in the 1930s. Rambling clubs published calendars of full moons, train companies laid on mystery trains to rural destinations, and when in 1932 the Southern Railway offered an excursion to a moonlit walk along the South Downs, expecting to sell forty or so tickets, one and a half thousand people turned up.
The people setting out on these walks weren’t seeking to conquer peaks or test themselves against maps and miles. They were looking for a mystical communion with the land; they walked backwards in time to an imagined past suffused with magical, native glamour: to Merrie England, or to prehistoric England, pre-industrial visions that offered solace and safety to sorely troubled minds. For though railways and roads and a burgeoning market in countryside books had contributed to this movement, at heart it had grown out of the trauma of the Great War, and was flourishing in fear of the next.
The critic Jed Esty has described this pastoral craze as one element in a wider movement of national cultural salvage in these years…”
This quote interested me in that it tied in with another by Paul Fussell who wrote:
“…if the opposite of war is peace, the opposite of experiencing moments of war is proposing moments of pastoral.”
Putting these together, I’m reminded as I’ve often written about before of my childhood, when I would create maps of imagined countries (which were in effect imagined pasts) in which I would mentally walk whilst out walking.