Award-wining Macfarlane (Mountains of the Mind, 2003) celebrates Great Britain’s remaining wilderness.
Setting out from his home in Cambridge to explore the forests, mountains and rivers of his native land, the author was inspired by the Scottish explorer and mountain climber W.H. Murray (1913–96). The Glasgow-born Murray sustained himself during three years in World War II prison camps by writing about beloved wild places on sheets of toilet paper that eventually became the book Mountaineering in Scotland. Following Murray’s admonition that “secret things awaited inquiry,” Macfarlane explored varied areas. He visited the remote and serene island of Ynys Enlli in North Wales, once home to generations of Christian monks and still a refuge for hundreds of species of migrating birds. He trod the deeply worn holloways, or sunken roads, cut into the Dorset countryside by cartwheels and hooves over the centuries. He investigated the Burren region of northern County Clare, Ireland, a landscape of limestone graced with both hardy plants and funerary monuments dating back thousands of years. A keen observer and accomplished writer, Macfarlane does a splendid job of conveying the look and feel of these wild places and draws on wide reading in science and literature to anchor them in nature and the imagination. He encountered the “disinterest” of a mountain, Ben Hope, on a cold winter night; loch-filled valleys forming sanctuaries where time was expressed in shades and textures; and the “wilding quality” of darkness in the Cumbrian mountains. “Wildness weaved with the human world,” he came to realize, “rather than existing only in cleaved-off areas.” For all the loss of nature in densely populated Britain, it remained resurgent and irrepressible in the most unexpected places. “The sheer force of ongoing organic existence,” Macfarlane writes, can be found on a tiny woodland at the city’s edge or on a mountaintop.
Evocative and well-written, a delight for nature and travel buffs.