Books Reviews

The English countryside is a perfect escape from covid confinement

Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A. – It should go without saying that I haven’t done much traveling in the last year. Last March, at the start of the pandemic, my world suddenly shrunk to a 30-mile radius around my house.

Gone are the days of people watching in cafes and meeting new people at events. My bedroom has become my craft space, library, study hall, and movie theater. Thirty-minute walks seem like cross-country expeditions. 

At the start of the pandemic, I began to walk through a nearby park once, sometimes twice, a day to look at the ducks and get some exercise. After about 100 of those park walks, I started to get a little bored and expanded to new-to-me forests.

These newly discovered nature areas helped me stay sane and experience some change in routine. I could put down my computer and romp through the woods, imagining that I lived in a little, remote cottage. 

But still, I missed going to a new town or country, meeting new people and experiencing a new culture.

One way I’ve been able to safely travel and have these experiences is through reading. Through a book, I can meet a cast of new characters, learn something new about the world and just tune out the overwhelming ordinary for a little bit.

My favorite “escapism” books have been the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot (Herriot is a pen name for the real person, James Alfred Wight). The series takes place in the Yorkshire Dales and follows a veterinary surgeon through a collection of short tales.

From assisting with animal births to dealing with eccentric pets to detailing the beautiful English countryside, Herriot’s books transported me far away.

My favorite parts were the descriptions of nature: the old stone walls, patchwork quilts of fields and bursts of wildflowers. Oftentimes, when I felt trapped by suburbia and modern life, I could escape with these books and picture myself running through an open field.

Herriot’s descriptions of pausing in his busy day to lie down in a field and appreciate his surroundings inspired me. It helped me to pause and take a breath in the midst of chaotic Zoom schooling.

“This was the real Yorkshire with the clean limestone wall riding the hill’s edge and the path cutting brilliant green through the crowding heather,” Herriot wrote. “And, walking face on to the scented breeze I felt the old tingle of wonder at being alone on the wide moorland where nothing stirred and the spreading miles of purple blossom and green turf reached away till it met the hazy blue of the sky.”

All Creatures Great and Small introduced me to many characters. At a time when meeting up with friends seems unthinkable, I thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through Herriot as he sat down for pie and tea with farmers or went to country fairs.

Herriot’s ability to paint a complex and often humorous character made these books very enjoyable. They left me with more of an understanding of what it meant to be a farmer and the hardships and character it required.

If you’re looking for a cozy book series that transports you to a pre-covid past, these are the books for you. Since each chapter is its own story, I particularly enjoyed being able to pick the book up in small pockets of time without having to carve out time to read.

Herriot’s books are charming and simple with happy endings and sweet life lessons, the perfect books for a pandemic. 

Lucy Tobier is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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