Here are some of my recommendations in truly great nature or walk writing, with a selection of the covers or quotations from my favourite titles as well.
Deakin, Roger: Waterlog: a Swimmer’s Journey through Britain. A jubilant and often humourous account of the writer thinking and feeling and travelling ‘in his element’; the writing is as lucent as the water which is its idiom. Joyful and a refreshingly supine perspective!
Forster, E.M: Howards End. I include this for its treatment of place and how a place can restore, rejuvenate and act as a lodestone in the lives of those who come into contact with it. It was one of my favourite novels growing up and the power of Howards End and its garden – and everything it represents – is one of my primary archetypes of place-love.
Frost, Robert: Collected Poems (various). Frost writes with the appearance of great ease and simplicity, yet his poetry brilliantly bodies forth his ideas in compact forms. Musical, lyrical and often melancholy (sometimes self-effacing), his poems throb with the love of the land: of working, walking and writing it.
Law, Ben: Woodsman. A magical account of a deep-rooted love of forests and woodworking, this book opens with a beautiful reverie about a night spent out of doors in the woods to get to know the trees and the habits of the woodland he will work. Law is unfailingly diffident and modest about his own contribution to woodland conservation, but it is heartening to hear someone with age-old skills in woodwork speak with such a love of wood in the present day.
Liptrot, Amy: The Outrun. This is a raw and beautiful account of the author’s journey from her chaotic childhood in the Orkneys to loneliness, alcoholism and brokenness in London and back to the Orkneys and its wildlife for recovery and healing. It is a journey to find a sense of belonging and is achingly poignant with insight and longing for settled-ness.
Macfarlane, Robert: The Old Ways. This selection of walking essays is so richly insightful and so skilfully builds a picture of the continuing relevance of our relationship with the old ways that cross-hatch Britain that you just want to step outdoors and be off. A sublimely melancholy and finely drawn portrait of the great poet Edward Thomas too. I (very humbly) acknowledge this book as a major influence on my own love of walking & writing.
Ibid: Landmarks. Here Macfarlane revives some of the peculiarly vernacular and esoteric language of place, landscape and walking. It has a feel of an archaeological exploit, digging up words in their specific place contexts and re-dignifying them with meaning and purpose to write the landscapes we still see around us today.
Ibid., Stanley Donwood & Dan Richards: Holloway. There is a strange and beguiling alchemy at work in this short prose-poem on the Dorset holloways that seems to act like a holloway itself to suck you down into the delicious writing of it. Simply beautiful, and possibly my favourite of all the books recommended here.
Shepherd, Nan: The Living Mountain. A wonderfully intimate work about the Cairngorms which charts the relationship between Shepherd and the Mountain, with the Mountain functioning as a changing and changeable character in its own right. A book very strongly located in a love of place.
Stempel, John Lewis: The Running Hare. Setting out to farm his field Flinders in a consciously traditional (i.e. non-mechanised) way, Stempel gives a beautifully observed account of the wildlife which visits the field. He is reverent, nostalgic, a fierce critic of pesticides in modern farming, but often humourous. His thesis is that modern farming methods have irrevocably damaged the natural world and, as he states in his prologue, he “has written with some anger… but really [he] just wants the birds back.” Me too.