The land unrolls like a carpet, sweeping down to the Bristol Channel. Green swells are patterned with trees, fences and farms. The air is crisp, filling the head with a fresh scent. The wind lies over the horizon like a grey veil.
The deer are bunched up in the lee of a hill, backs to the wind. Most lie close to the ground; but young bucks bat antlers, the sounds of their collisions cracking over Dyrham Park like gunshots.
We creep downhill from them, trying not to spook them. But while they give us the occasional glance, there is no panic hovering among them; they don’t seem poised for flight. Years of visitors and keepers have given them confidence. A couple of the biggest stags toss their heads, silhouetted on the brow of the hill, their antlers echoing the curves and spikes of the oak tree under which they shelter.
I stand on the hill while Ben tries to sneak closer to take photos – unusually, I have not brought my camera. The broad sweep of the land and sky should fill me with peace; smooth over the cracks and crevices of my mind. After all, we are out of the city, in the heart of Somerset’s green countryside. But there is something wrong. I am agitated, disturbed.
For despite the miles of green fields, golden-stone farms and bird-filled skies, there is no peace. The M5 motorway slices through the broad plain like knife wound. And even though it is several miles away, the noise of its traffic fills the air like a roaring machine.
It’s a kind of rape. A violation. An invader from the city making his mark across the country, as if to demonstrate his power and distain for rural life. Like the Romans or the Normans ploughing straight lines through Britain like sword cuts, this road disregards everything in its path; disfigures beauty, vandalises what is already there; spoils. It’s a clear message: technology owns this land and can destroy it at will.
An over-dramatic interpretation? Perhaps. But when so much open country is smothered by noise from people just passing through it, what else can you think except that the land means nothing before the might and belligerence of “civilisation”? So thought the Native Americans before the onslaught of the railroad; so think people of today campaigning against yet more runways, rail lines and roads.
Noise pollution used to be a big thing in the Sixties and Seventies. But today’s planners appear to have forgotten that noise can destroy a natural area as effectively as development. Sure, Dyrham Park’s fallow deer are used to it, but that is no excuse – you can get used to anything if it’s all you have.
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe new roads should be built between embankments that could reduce their sound. Maybe motor manufacturers will come up with something that muffles engine noise and the roar of tyres on tarmac. Otherwise, being in the countryside will seem no different to standing on a main road, surrounded by traffic; and there will be nowhere left to find peace and quiet.