Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
Robert Macfarlane – a naturalist, Cambridge Fellow and writer of the bestselling book The Old Ways, where the author sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea-paths that form part of a vast networks of routes which criss-cross Britain, has a new book out.
His first book was Mountains of the Mind, and he also wrote The Wild Places.
Anyone who enjoys reading about nature and the land, language and the relationship between them should enjoy this.
Landmarks is all about the language of landscape, and it presents hundreds of words and phrases for weather and natural phenomena, and for working and playing in the countryside.
Macfarlane argues that we’ve lost touch with the earth, both physically and linguistically. He presents writers who are engaged with it, and language ‘that belongs to an age when children could tell the difference between an oak and an ash, a sparrow and a wren, the book demands our re-engagement with the natural world’.
Nature writing is on the up with books like this and prize winning H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
If you are out walking this holiday, here’s a fantastic book to help you appreciate the landscape.
The splendour of the tree: an illustrated history by Noël Kingsbury and illustrated by Andrea Jones.
Dr Noel Kingsbury is a world-class expert on plants and the environment and this book celebrates the wonder, mystery, beauty, and utility of the tree. It pays homage to 100 key species of tree – chosen for their cultural, economic, or historical significance and their importance in the natural world – and includes an indispensable cultivation section that advises on the care and selection of trees for the home garden.
‘The author divides the trees between six chapters – Antiquity, Ecology, Sacred, Utility, Food and Ornament. Each tree is given its own section containing essential information as to origin, age and size, climate etc. However, what makes this book stand out from other reference works on trees is the fact that the author brings a very personal perspective of each tree to life both through his writing style and the range of information he includes. He analyses the particular characteristics of each tree and the specific role it plays within the ecosystem and the human environment. Nor does the author neglect to mention the challenges facing trees in the modern world and their important role in our food chain.’
The homing instinct: meaning and mystery in animal migration by
This is a fascinating look at the pull of home and whether it’s in our DNA to gravitate there in this book by New England-based scientist Bernd Heinrich. He covers a range of species, moths eels, whales and humans – looking at both the mechanics and motivation that influences their migrations.
He explores the ability of animals to travel great distances – war leaders from Julius Caesar to those serving in World War 1 have used pigeons to carry orders. He says pigeon post is “probably more reliable for transmitting secret messages than the telephone and internet are today”.
Geese imprint true visual landscape memory; fish, insects, amphibians use scent trails to pinpoint their home if they are displaced from it; the tiniest songbirds are equipped for solar and magnetic orienteering over vast distances. When a pair of cranes return to their home pond in the Alaska tundra, they show unmistakable signs of deep emotion.
It’s a beautifully written and fascinating book about the pull of home.
Nature lovers might like Hugh Thomson’s The Green Road into the Trees It’s the winner of the THWAITES WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2014 – a new literary prize for Nature & Travel Writing about Britain.
From the very centre of England – literally, as his village is furthest from the sea – he travels to its outermost edges. The Green Road into the Trees is a journey made rich by the characters he meets along the way. And the ways he takes are the old ways, the drover-paths and tracks, the paths and ditches half covered by bramble and tunnelled by alder, beech and oak: the trails that can still be traced by those who know where to look.
Just as in his acclaimed book about Peru, The White Rock , Hugh shows how older, half-forgotten cultures lie much closer to the surface than we may think. In recent years, archaeologists have uncovered remarkable findings about the Celts, Saxons and Vikings that have often yet to reach the wider public. Travelling along the Icknield Way, Hugh passes the great prehistoric monuments of Maiden Castle, Stonehenge and Avebury, before ending at the Wash near Seahenge. By taking a 400 mile journey from coast to coast, through both the sacred and profane landscapes of ancient England, Hugh casts unexpected light – and humour – on the way we live now.
‘The author has written books on South America and this is an interesting read on his journey in less exotic and wild surroundings following the ancient paths across England known as the Icknield Way from Dorset to Norfolk. It’s a journey that covers thousands of years of history, a journey in the footsteps of some memorable writers and a journey that also is a view of life in England today. Man has marked nearly every inch of the way through farming, building and worship and what surprises – and perhaps shouldn’t – is how much wild country there is on his journey, how many empty vistas and beautiful landscapes in a journey that skirts some of the most built-up and over-developed parts of England.’