Friday, 21 December 2012

The Wild Places - Robert Macfarlane

'I could not now say when I first grew to love the wild, only that I did, and that a need for it will always remain strong in me. As a child, whenever I read the word, it conjured images of wide spaces, remote and figureless. Isolated islands off Atlantic coasts. Unbounded forests and blue snow-light falling on to drifts marked with the paw-prints of wolves. Frost-shattered summits and corries holding lochs of great depth. And this was the vision of a wild place that had stayed with me: somewhere boreal, wintry, vast, isolated, elemental demanding of the traveller in its asperities. To reach a wild place was, for me, to step outside human history.'

The Wild PlacesIn The Wild Places Macfarlane takes the reader on a series of journeys into some of the most remote parts of Britain and Ireland. Beginning his journey on the Llyn peninsula in Wales, he travels the length and breadth of the British Isles, from Rannoch Moor in the Highlands of Scotland to the Essex mudflats, from Croagh Patrick in Ireland to the hills and valleys of Cumbria. Each chapter is devoted to a different setting - island, valley, summit, forest, salt marsh to name but a few.

This book is a celebration of the wild, the elements and the natural world. Sleeping out in remote places and inhospitable weathers, Macfarlane experiences moments of joy but also of fear.  This book is a natural history lesson, but with literature, art and geology thrown in. The author pays tribute to those who've made a lifetime's work of studying hares, peregrine falcons, the formation of sand dunes or the movement of waves. He tells the history of the people too, from the Highland Clearances to the Irish Potato Famine. His writing is wonderfully descriptive, almost poetic, with both the eye to see and appreciate the wild places and the skill to bring them to life on the page, as here on the banks of Loch Coruisk:
'Along the north shore, we traversed acres of soaked marsh, pocked with deep sink-holes. The steep ground to our left was a mosaic of brown rock, grouted with grass and streaked vertically with water from the previous night's storm. The angle of tilt of the mountain's face and the angle of fall of the light were such that every wet face of rock was set glinting - thousands of them at once, all on the same alignment.

The sink-holes in the marsh brimmed with water. The mild ferosity of the rocks meant that the water in the holes was stained red around the edges: they shone like pools of drowned blood. Only faint deer paths showed us a safe way through.

The air was moist and smelt swampish, oozy. The ground was dense with plant-life: mare's tails, among the oldest plants in existence, and the dark green leaves of a plant whose name I did not know. I reached out and scooped one of the leaves up from beneath. It felt heavy and limp as an old vellum map, drooping loosely over my palm.'

Loch Coruisk by Marc Roberts
I'd always thought of myself as more of a city girl, and only really picked this up on the recommendation of another blogger. I'm very pleased I did.
'I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.' John Muir


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! I haven't got to it yet this year, so it's high on my list for next. I've only recently taken to nature writing, but I find it very moving and compelling. That surprised me, too!

  2. I hope you enjoy it too Litlove.

    I'm inspired now to get out the map and plan a trip. I do draw the line at sleeping rough though. Give me a comfy bed and a hot shower any day!


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