I’ll level with you – I truly love Britain’s flat landscapes

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Shingle beach, drained farmland or a bare plain under huge skies; flat spaces distort distance and make me want to run and yell

If you visit the flat fenlands of Cambridgeshire on a clear day, and walk along the ruler-lined channels and droves, you might – if you’re lucky – see a freight train pulling itself out of the horizon like a conjuror’s endless scarf. Stand and watch, as long as you can. The train traces the top of the level land, wagon by coloured wagon, until the whole distance is trimmed with its purpose. Your attention will drift off, and drift back in, and that train will still be there, streaming along. And even when you can no longer hear its roar – when the wind’s slap of silence takes over your ears again – you’ll still be able to see the freight carriages, taking their time to vanish from that bare landscape.

We don’t talk much about Britain’s flat places. From the Cambridgeshire fens to the West Lancashire coastal plain, we pass over them hurriedly, looking for forests or rivers or mountains. Flat places seem hardly to count as places. They’re just the gaps between landmarks. If people think about flatlands at all, it’s usually to call them boring. Nothing to look at, nothing to focus on, no hidden places to discover. To be flat is to be dull: a cut-and-dried equation. So in Noël Coward’s play Private Lives (1930), divorcee Amanda demolishes her ex-husband’s new wife – met at a party in East Anglia – with the bland statement: “Very flat, Norfolk.” Norfolk has been trying to live this down ever since. “There are a lot of misperceptions about Norfolk,” pleads the Visit Norfolk website, “not least that the county is flat, far away and the weather isn’t great. Read on and we’ll debunk them all …”

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