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The Joy of a Proper Picnic, Rabbit Poo and All

Those of us with picnicking at the very core of our being lay out rugs come rain, wind or snow. It’s about the setting, not the food

By Ian VincePublished 19 days ago 3 min read
AI-generated Picnic - very modern

You could be forgiven for not realising it, but here in the UK, we are coming to the end of National Picnic Week. It’s one of those daft marketing campaigns that are run to raise awareness of something that we are already perfectly well aware and perhaps even fond of, while simultaneously reflecting the pilfered glory onto a campaign sponsor; a lacklustre margarine brand, for example, a range of lunch boxes, a wine losing market share or a failing pie manufacturer.

All of which would have surprised the original picnickers of the 18th and 19th centuries. For them, the picnic was based around communal sharing. Every member of the party would contribute food and entertainment towards an elegant meal, eventually one that would be taken outside. The elegance of the meal set it apart from farm labourers taking their dinner in the fields, but the picnic has had a democratic streak in it from the start.

Pique-nique au jardin des Tuileries by Ainardo da Vinci/AI

Just as the French revolution opened up the royal parks to the citizens of Paris who took to them in droves to picnic in, it also had an effect on the sons of British aristocracy; cut off from the continent and unable to take the Grand Tour, it inspired them to seek out and appreciate British landscapes. As time went by, the landscape and amusements – a park, a lake, a stunning view, a rowdy game of football or some open-air theatre – became an integral part of the picnic itself.

Paneur grenzübergang - the gate that opened to let the Pan-European Picnic take place. Image released as Public Domain by the photographer Cuchulainn

The picnic even took centre stage in one of the pivotal moments of the 20th century. On August 19, 1989, Hungarian dissidents and Austrian politicians agreed to symbolically open a border gate near the town of Sopron in Hungary for a few hours so that they could enjoy a picnic together. Six hundred East Germans fled across the temporarily-lifted iron curtain while Hungarian guards looked on, unsure of what to do. According to the German chancellor at the time, Helmut Kohl, the Pan-European Picnic, as it became known, was where “the first stone was knocked out of the wall”.

Our own picnics may lack the political tension, but have drama of a different kind; drama supplied by the scenery and, occasionally, the weather. One Cornish Christmas a few years ago, lured by free admission to the Lost Gardens of Heligan on Boxing Day, I sat on a rug with my family and ate sandwiches in the snow, but that's mild compared to other tales I've heard. Salad leaves blowing around Dorset hilltops and picnics in the Lake District where conditions were so severe that hard-boiled eggs were carried off by the wind.

If it was all about the food, we'd find a more efficient way to eat it, or at least test it in a wind tunnel first. As an enthusiastic and occasionally intrepid picnicker, I believe that although the rustic charm of picnic food plays a part, along with the novelty (in Britain, at least) of alfresco dining, a much more important consideration is where you choose to lay your tartan rug, the exact spot in the British countryside you are going to immerse yourself in the landscape.

Proper picnicking is a gung-ho, both feet first activity, anything less and you miss the whole point of it – enjoying a breathtaking panorama far removed from the tyranny of conventional tableware. Not grasping this premise leads to all kinds of misunderstanding; I was dismayed to find one story inspired by Picnic Week which advised that you can eat a picnic in your front room if the weather turns sour. I shouldn’t have to tell you how many different kinds of wrong this is – it’s not cocktail sausages and cucumber sandwiches that makes a picnic, it’s fresh air and nature, marauding ants and rabbit poo, nosey cattle and magnificent views.

Finally, National Picnic Week notwithstanding, it doesn’t really matter what time of year it is, picnickers up and down Britain need no encouragement to do something that is already at the very core of their being. We don’t need your pre-packed gastronomic lunches, the gingham napkins, the hamper woven from twigs and all the other trappings you would like us to pay for. Most of all, we do not need your centrally ordained week, we would rather not put all our scotch eggs into one basket.

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About the Creator

Ian Vince

Erstwhile non-fiction author, ghost & freelance writer for others, finally submitting work that floats my own boat, does my own thing. I'll deal with it if you can.

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Comments (1)

  • shanmuga priya19 days ago

    You have captured the true beauty of a picnic ... enjoyed reading it.

Ian VinceWritten by Ian Vince

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