The Countryman

BY THE EDITOR

Natural historian, broadcaster, columnist, countryside campaigner, farmer and national treasure, Sir Johnny Scott has had “The Countryman – Through the Seasons” published by Quiller, and it’s a treasure trove of countryside knowledge and anecdotes, some of which inevitably lead to a good chuckle. A series of vignettes of British country life across the seasons – which, I am ashamed to say, I have read from cover to cover in less than a week when occupying the downstairs’ throne. One of the most readable books I’ve had the pleasure to read of late.

The introduction alone of this book should be read by every British Government representative and employee. In it Sir Johnny manages to distill his passion for – and fears for – the countryside, concluding with a sad realisation that townies, who once used to forage in the countryside out of necessity, now live lives so distinct from the rural community that their ignorance and prejudice has, tragically, become a genuine threat to the countryside and those living the country life in it.

The fifty or so chapters in this book are short and eclectic. Each one deals with at least one different topic, from Morecambe Bay shrimps to the cuckoo, from sporrans to Christmas week. Taken as a whole, there is a distinguishable love emanating from this book’s pages – for everything countryside, for the lessons of olden days, inherited by the author through the real-life words of ghillies, gamekeepers and farmers, which hold such sway for present countryside debates. The author’s father appears and reappears throughout the book’s pages, from whom Sir Johnny inherited so much of his craft.

Taken individually, each chapter of this book is a lesson in itself, leaving the reader illuminated on subjects they likely never considered (curing bacon, the domestication of wild goats, weather forecasting by insect) or should have considered (poisonous fungi, encouraging the young, and why we use mistletoe at Christmastime). Despite the chapters appearing under their four seasonal headings, from Spring through to Winter, it does not matter in which order the chapters are read – this is a rich, colourful para picar tapas of a book which can be handed down from parent to child. There are flashes of Roald Dahl mixed with moments of RW Southern – some of the historical references are so detailed as to need a re-read and show the author’s all-encompassing passion and curiosity for the subject matter. Other paragraphs read more like poetry than prose and the reader gets transported to the riverside or onto the moor by the wordsmith.

My children – read to in their bedroom not the downstairs’ loo – most enjoyed the chapter entitled ‘Dogs at Christmas’ which features the author’s old terrier, Tug, “known as  ‘Dyno Rod’ in hunting circles”. They were left in hysterics by Tug’s antics at Christmas, peeing on areas of the author’s home he was otherwise prevented from getting to and biting carol singers’ toes. A brilliant chapter amongst so many others.

This is a lovely book. A wonderful legacy. Sir Johnny is our countryside personified. It is to be read to laugh and learn. I highly recommend it, Dear Readers. You can buy a copy here.

Sir (Walter) John Scott, Bt. MFH. Sir Johnny (as he is better known) is an author, natural historian, broadcaster, columnist, countryside campaigner, artisan snuff manufacturer and retired hill farmer. He wrote and co-presented the BBC2 series Clarissa and the Countryman with Clarissa Dickson Wright. He writes for a variety of magazines and periodicals on field sports, food, farming, travel, history and rural affairs. A lifetime devotee of the countryside and its sports, he is currently: Joint Master and Chairman, The North Pennine Hunt; Regional Director, Vote OK; President, The Gamekeepers Welfare Trust; President, The Tay Valley Wildfowlers Association; President, The Newcastle Wildfowlers Association; President, The Association of Working Lurchers / Longdogs; Centenary Patron and Honorary Life Member, British Association for Shooting and Conservation; Patron, The Sporting Lucas Terrier Association; Patron, The Wildlife Ark Trust; Patron, The National Organisation of Beaters and Pickers Up; Board member, The European Squirrel Initiative.