‘Leaving London is like climbing up a very old tree. You start by crawling up the trunk and then take the biggest branch off to the left or right at the first opportunity. Keep turning along smaller and smaller boughs until you arrive at the final forked twig.’

So begins a fascinating new book by writer and thinker Vron Ware on how our relationship with rural England has evolved over the years.

Return of a Native: Learning From The Land (Repeater Books, £16.99) takes Ware back from her current London home to where she grew up: a tiny Test Valley village north of Andover.

The book starts at a crossroads at nearby Pill Heath: by paying closer attention to the land itself, Ware argues, we can regain an understanding that has been lost over the years.

Nowhere is this more marked than the exodus from London during the pandemic.

Initially seduced by estate agent doublespeak of seclusion and easy access, a rural buyer’s remorse has since set in, with many returning to the capital.

The countryside isn’t a sort of fresh air theme park, Ware argues, but is instead suffused with history, politics and power.

This split of opinions and lack of knowledge isn’t new. Ware quotes the programme for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and a section labelled ‘The Country’ – ‘in making what they have from the land, the people have become divided’, the brochure claimed.

But the answers remain there to be discovered.

She quotes Henry James visiting Stonehenge in the 1880s, who, while initially considering it ‘a hackneyed shrine of pilgrimage’ noted that there was something ‘immensely vague and immensely deep’ about the stones.

Return of a Native takes the reader back through how the landscape in this corner of Hampshire has changed through time.

It’s one of those fascinating books that dips into all kinds of subjects, from archaeology to agriculture, and is full of remarkable stories and nuggets.

One that particularly intrigued me was the early years of the industrialisation of agriculture. This has sped up since the Second World War, to devastating effect, but its roots a century before are even grislier.

Early soil scientists worked out that plant roots needed calcium phosphate to grow. This could be obtained from bones, either burnt or crushed and mixed with sulphuric acid to make a basic fertiliser.

To keep up with demand, the bones came from the battlefields of Europe. Back then, there was no reverence for the military dead: instead, many of those killed at Leipzig, Austerlitz and Waterloo were turned into bonemeal and eventually scattered back on the fields of England.

No wonder the metropolitan elite hotfooted it back to their hipster Hoxton cafes.