IN PRAISE OF PINE-WOODS.
COMMENTING upon a recent sale of landed estate in the Carshalton district of Surrey, in which building-sites sold at an average of £500 per acre, a writer in the Daily Telegraph draws attention to the fact that in that favoured county land still maintains its value. That this should be the case in the varied and beautiful scenery of the Surrey woodlands, and in the near neighbourhood of London, is hardly matter for surprise. But the Southern home counties
• are at present the scene of a sudden change of ideas on the subject of "eligible building property," which must before long alter not only the general appearance of large tracts of country which have, until now, remained almost unin- habited since the memory of man, but also the character and mode of life of what were until lately among the most rural and primitive districts of the South. The rush to the pine- woods, with its transference of capital from the suburbs not -only of London, but of the great towns of the Midlands and the North, to the heaths of Berkshire, Surrey, and Western Hampshire, is assuming the dimensions of an urban exodus. Measured by the standard of the realised wealth and spending power which it represents, it must be allowed to count in some degree as a makeweight against the loss to the rural districts by immigration to the towns. That the movement is not a mere foible of the hour, but based upon a strong conviction that the pine countries present real and abiding advantages for modern country life, seems clear from the insistence with which the new-comers cling to the heaths, and refuse the most tempting offers to build outside them. The villas follow the line of the sand as closely as col- lieries follow the line of the coal. Even the outlying and -detached wastes, which, until recently, lay barren and unin- habited among the Surrey hills, or Hampshire commons, are parcelled out and covered with substantial houses ; and there -are signs that, before many years, the main tract of the pine -country will be converted into one immense residential suburb, composed of houses graded to suit all incomes from £500 a year upwards.
The extent of the pine country is not so great as to render -this surmise improbable. Though it reaches into the three counties of Surrey, Hampshire, and Berkshire, it covers a very limited area in each. Hampshire and Berkshire are, in the main, chalk soils; and the area of the Surrey heaths is more than balanced by the Weald, the mixed soils, and the downs. A line drawn from Bracknell, through Ascot, and thence to Weybridge, marks the northern limits of the true pine-cciuntry, which forms an almost equilateral triangle, with its apex at Lisa, on the southern boundary of Woolmer Forest. This portion includes Fleet, Farnham, Aldershot, Bialey, Weybridge, Woking, and the Hind Head Commons. South of Liss, the Mmon Valley and the Chalk Downs block -the way. Further South, in the " purlieus " of the New Forest, the sand once more appears, and finds its final limit, and the
perfection of its peculiar beauties, in the pine-woods and -cliffs of the great Bournemouth Bay, and by the shores of Branksome and Poole Harbour. In the larger northern portion, which may be roughly estimated at 120,000 acres, the greater part is already marked with the present or proposed sites for building. From the heights of St. George's Hill to the desolate fiats of Fleet, the roofs of the red houses stand thick among the pines, or above the birch and heather. The great common at the back of Hind Head is becoming a mere hinterland" to villa-gardens, except where the ground still remains in the hands of one or two owners of vast possessions ; and by the cliffs and chines of Bournemouth, where, in the memory of living men, yachts' crews landed to fetch water from the little "bourne" by a solitary coastguard-station, a population of forty thousand inhabitants is imbedded in the pines, and thinks itself fortunate to secure a place in the groves upon the cliffs, at a price of from £1,000 to £2,000 an acre.
Bournemouth is the capital city of the new country, though placed .at its extreme limit; there all has been done that
money and forethought can accomplish, to anticipate the wants of the new settlers in this sandy Arcadia. The creation of Bournemouth is one of the economic puzzles of the century, quite as remarkable, and hardly less rapid, than the rise of Middlesborough or Barrow-in-Furness ; for its population has gathered, not to make money, but to spend it. The greater number were, in all probability, free to choose any other part of England for a residence. The reason for their building a "city to dwell in" on this long line of Hampshire sand-cliff, must be sought in some amenity of the site, not so obvious as to be perceived at once, or Bournemouth would have been built long ago, yet capable of appealing to the senses of the greater number of those who visit it. The proximate reason of any sea-side colony, usually lies in some very direct appeal to sentiment or convenience. Beachy Head " made" Eastbourne, Brighton is London-by-the-Sea, Hastings lies on a sunny shelf, Scarborough and Whitby are the natural marine towns of the West Riding, Ryde and Cowes are the yachting centres, Ilfracombe and Lynton share the double beauties of Exmoor, and of coast scenery unrivalled in the West. Bournemouth can claim none of these special advan- tages. The long line of yellow cliffs, with the distant bastions of chalk precipice, Freshwater, and the Needles on the east,and the pillared cliffs of St. Albans Head to the west, beyond the wide blue waters of the bay, give to the seaward view a breadth and simplicity which grows upon the imagination. Bat it is not by its coast, or even by the bright waters of its sand-paved sea, which the wildest storm cannot discolour, that the place prevails on those who visit it, to make there an abiding home. It is the whispering of the deep pine-wood that lines the land, and not the voices of the sea, which they hear and obey. The pine-wood of Bournemouth is to the plantations of the sand country, what the groves of Mark Ash are to the beech-woods of the New Forest, the climax of an ascending scale of sylvan beauty, produced by the gradual and natural advance to perfection of the specialised growth of a single species of tree, in a setting which varies in degree of beauty, but not in general features. What the charm of this pine-forest must have been, before it was discovered and in- habited, can only be conjectured, though the first care of the settlers has beento preserve the trees, so far as the construction of roads and houses allows, and their farther fellin g is forbidden by the strictest obligations of leases, and the enforcement of local regulations against wanton burning and injury. It is a fact that the crossbill, the rarest and shyest of the birds of the Northern forest, still breeds in the Bournemouth woods ; and the ground is covered by half-gnawed cones flung down by the squirrels, which build their nests on the very verge of the cliffs. The trees in the oldest and thickest woods are not the Scotch fir, or the ragged spruce, which cover so much of the so-called "pine districts," but true Western pines, flat- topped and straight-stemmed, with a crown of up-curved branches, studded with masses of heavy cones, full of seed, and as prolific as on the shores of the Mediterranean. Many of these trees are more than a century old, and cover cliff and glen alike with high vistas of tall grey stems, lightly roofed by the intersections and multiplied upward curves of the branches which lace the sky, but admit both air and light to the ground below. Thus, in the oldest woods, though the mass of fallen pine-needles makes the surface as soft and noiseless to the tread as in the thick and crowded new plantations of the Woking heaths, the bracken- fern has space to grow, and the soil between the trunks is filled with all the minor ornament of heather, woodbine, and wild-rose. In the hollows, masses of rhododendron grow self- sown, and where the sea-wind strikes the summit of the cliffs, a tangle of young pines makes a natural and complete pro- vision for the shelter and quiet of the deep woods beyond. In their peaceful precincts, in the sound of the sea-wind in the branches, the subtle scent of the pines and heather, which no rough wind can ever dissipate, in the breadth and quiet of the sandy forest, in the dryness and clearness of its air, purified by trees and sea, the attraction of the newly dis- covered country lies. Were its area ten times greater than it is, it would hardly satisfy the wants of those who have yielded to its charm. It is already crowded, not from choice, but because there is not building space for those who desire to live there. The last thing to be desired as the result of the new exodus is a reconstruction of town life and town amusements ; yet that is exactly what is taking place in the choicest districts of the pine country.
If it becomes a matter of faith that this is the best soil, and the best air and surroundings to make life happy and prolonged, there is no price which will not be paid, within the scope of individual means, to secure its enjoyment. But the limits of space must control the limits of population, beyond which the peculiar amenities of the district cannot survive. There are signs that this limit is already nearly in sight; and the question arises, Where else will the same con- ditions be found ? Perhaps on the Norfolk heaths ; or, if the climate of the East Coast is a barrier, we may see the growth of another and more perfect city in the pines, in the wide sand-hills of the Landes, between the Garonne and the Adour in sunny Gasoony.