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Written in the wild: the best radical nature writing
From This Land Is Our Land to Why Rebel, the message is that if we take heed of the natural world, we can heal ourselves
E nglish nature writing can be a bit polite. Decorating nature with adjectives has become something of a fashion in the last decade, but there are some books whose verve is a wildflower seed bomb to the neat lawns of English prose.
Principal among these are any of the books written by the magus of human experience in the wild, Jay Griffiths. From Wild , to Kith , to Why Rebel , her latest collection of essays, there is an energy in her words that feels like being chased by wolves. Best of them all is Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression , which describes with hyperreal force the electrical storms of the mind, the eerie twilight of mania.
There are many books that shine a light on the otherwise unmentioned elephant in the room of writing about English nature: that we are allowed access to so little of it. Andro Linklater’s Owning the Earth deals with the issue on a global level, and Guy Shrubsole’s excellent Who Owns England? focuses on this country. Ask any land rights campaigner, and the book that inspired them was Marion Shoard’s This Land Is Our Land . Shoard worked for several years for CPRE, the countryside charity, and was fully integrated into the system of land ownership in England and yet, or thus, wrote three excoriating books about its iniquities: The Theft of the Countryside , Right to Roam , and This Land Is Our Land . The last is a comprehensive history of how we lost our rights to land, from William the Conqueror to the modern day.
At long last, the gates to the English garden of nature writing are being prised open by a new generation of talent from communities previously marginalised from both the countryside and the publishing industry. Jini Reddy’s Wanderland deals with the sense of feeling unwelcome in a predominantly white landscape. It primarily seeks a connection of magic between the human and non-human, something deeper than our obsession with leisure and recreation.
The book that most informs the dynamic of race in the English countryside for me is Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams. It is a detailed account of the horror at the heart of racism, how it was used to justify the profiteering of sugar barons. It hammers home the point that by objectifying and commodifying nature, we do the same to each other.
Rob Cowen’s recent collection of poems focuses on our recent year of lockdown, emphasising how desperately we need to connect with nature. Mixing the deeply personal with policy and propaganda, interweaving the callous coldness of the wild, from sparrowhawks to viruses, with the regenerative and ebullient effects of nature, The Heeding reminds us what, with a thousand years of exclusion, most of us had forgotten until lockdown: take heed of nature, and we can heal ourselves.
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- Modern British Nature Writing, 1789–2020
Modern British Nature Writing, 1789–2020
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- Will Abberley , University of Sussex , Christina Alt , University of St Andrews, Scotland , David Higgins , University of Leeds , Graham Huggan , University of Leeds , Pippa Marland , University of Bristol
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press
- Online publication date: March 2022
- Print publication year: 2022
- Online ISBN: 9781108123396
- DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108123396
- Subjects: Literature , English Literature: General Interest
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- Will Abberley , Christina Alt , David Higgins , Graham Huggan , Pippa Marland
- Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108123396
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Why do we speak so much of nature today when there is so little of it left? Prompted by this question, this study offers the first full-length exploration of modern British nature writing, from the late eighteenth century to the present. Focusing on non-fictional prose writing, the book supplies new readings of classic texts by Romantic, Victorian and Contemporary authors, situating these within the context of an enduringly popular genre. Nature writing is still widely considered fundamentally celebratory or escapist, yet it is also very much in tune with the conflicts of a natural world under threat. The book's five authors connect these conflicts to the triple historical crisis of the environment; of representation; and of modern dissociated sensibility. This book offers an informed critical approach to modern British nature writing for specialist readers, as well as a valuable guide for general readers concerned by an increasingly diminished natural world.
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Modern British Nature Writing, 1789–2020 pp i-ii
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Modern British Nature Writing, 1789–2020 - Title page pp iii-iii
Copyright page pp iv-iv, contents pp v-v, figures pp vi-vi, acknowledgements pp vii-viii, introduction pp 1-30, chapter i - romantic pp 31-83, chapter 2 - victorian pp 84-130, chapter 3 - modern pp 131-196, chapter 4 - contemporary pp 197-254, afterword pp 255-265.
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Index pp 266-276
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Deptford Literature Festival
Early career bursaries, london writers awards, criptic x spread the word, uprising & resistance, free reads a manuscript assessment service, a pocket guide to nature writing.
In this glorious Pocket Guide, Kerri ní Dochartaigh highlights the value of Nature writing, whilst sharing her personal tips, resources and opportunities on how you can get inspired to write.
What do we really mean when we talk about ‘nature writing’? And what do we even mean when we talk about ‘nature’?
Nature writing , like pockets , is a politicised thing – embroidered with different threads; depending on your race , class , gender , (dis)ability, wealth or place in this world. Is there space here for you? Do you feel safe? There has never been a more important time to make safe space: for every single thing on this earth. The writing, then, will just do its own thing, you see. It will come and go as it pleases, like a moth to a big aul’ light.
How about a wee browse through these background reads , and then we might, in the words of Edwyn Collins , (the most inspiring nature punk on earth): ‘Rip it up and start again’?… (What is nature writing if not the constant riotous act of starting again? Of learning, again, to listen and to look, to draw close and keep our distance, to break and to weep; to get back up and love the world afresh?) In this NY Times piece three and a half decades ago, David Rains Wallace wrote ‘NATURE writing is a historically recent literary genre, and, in a quiet way, one of the most revolutionary.’
We’re ready for this revolution but who is going to lead it?
For far too long we have allowed a very particular voice, from a very particular background, with a very particular outlook – dominate bookshop displays, library shelves, reading lists, bestseller rankings and our own homes. This, the idea that there has only ever been one nature story, is wildly incorrect. Other standpoints, other views, other stories, other voices: have always been there. In ‘Heart Berries’ Terese Marie Mailhot summarises: ‘So, where are we? Where we have always been. Where are you?’
To write about nature with truth and integrity means to ask questions about the past and the future – who, where and what have been mistreated – and how do we make that stop, through how we approach this genre? I only want to be a part of any gathering where every single one of us is there as an equal.
So, who is doing the important work in this area? Where should you go to read more? Where should you send your fledgling words?
Let’s start with The Willowherb Review because I think they are incredible. Their aim is ‘to provide a digital platform to celebrate and bolster nature writing by emerging and established writers of colour’, and already their writers have seen prize nominations and awards (all links on the site). Most importantly of all the writing is cracking; beautiful, raw and necessary. Jessica J Lee, the editor, has a no nonsense approach to the genre that I deeply admire. If you are a nature writer of colour, check out their website for submission dates.
Jessica has also organised a reading group, Allies in the Landscape , a fantastic support for nature writers and anyone wanting to widen their reading in the genre.
The folks at Caught by the River do stellar work for those who love the natural world across a plethora of genres. If you are in need of inspiration, or events to go to when we can, start here. You will not be let down. They read everything they’re sent but are a busy crew so – as with submitting anywhere, patience is kindness.
More folks with big hearts and brilliant writing are The Clearing .
The art of nature writing itself can be a children’s story, a poem, a list, a eulogy, a translation – it can be fiction or non – written or other – short or long; it is anything that takes our world and makes it sing. The best nature writing, for me, speaks of transformation – anything from a fiercely hungry caterpillar, through to strong women swimming themselves to safe places – making lists of yellow things for their sick fathers – moulding grief through sowing seeds: the best nature writers might not even call themselves that at all. Some books I have recently loved are: ‘ Trace’ by Lauret Savoy, ‘Braiding Sweet Grass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer Elizabeth J Burnett’s ‘ The Grassling’ , ‘ Bulbul Calling’ by Pratyusha, Seán Hewitt’s ‘ Tongues of Fire’ , Jessica J Lee’s ‘ Two Trees Make a Forest’ , ‘The Promise’ by Nicola Davies and ‘ The Diary of a Young Naturalist’ by Dara McAnulty. I return over and over to writers like Amy Liptrot, Kathleen Jamie, Annie Dillard, Robert McFarlane and others but I am constantly trying to find new voices, approaches and stories – new to me, not new in their existence, of course: it’s important to make that distinction in a genre such as this.
The important thing, needed now more than ever, is that they each take their place in this symphony of hope.
There is room, here, on these mountains and beaches, in these gardens and fields, in these bodies of water – in ASDA parking lots and unsafe spaces – on the streets, and in every place both ‘wild’ and not (both outer and inner) – for you and your story.
From me to you, here a few exercises I return to over and over as a means to get started…
Choose something – a moth, the colour blue, a tree, a wren, a pebble, the waves on the beach – and write about it as if the reader will have never before seen or heard of it. Really stay with the description for as long as you can, and try to get down to what it really is: its thingness. Make your description almost like a love letter in how much care you take with it, and the depth of your words. Another interesting take on this is to write yourself as the thing – to really imagine, say, going through all the stages of the cycle from caterpillar to moth – or the ebb and flow you would experience as a particular body of water etc.
Journal – at least three free-flow pages without thinking about them or rereading – every single day. This one really helps to get me out of my normal flow of thought, and does something to my brain that welcomes experiences, creatures and thoughts that are conducive to nature writing. It really doesn’t matter if I am not writing about nature in these pages, really that is not the point, I think it’s in the act of carving out space and time – bringing awareness to the act. The space in which I write these can be a cafe, on a train, or at home, and still I find myself in a wild place, one that is on the inside not the outside.
The thing that most helps me to write about the natural world is actually being in it – walking, swimming, running, laying, laughing, crying – just allowing myself to be outside as much as I can seems to be the best way for me to try to write about the world we share.
Once you feel more confident, you might be interested in entering your writing into a prize or sharing it online (an incredible amount of links can also be found in the hyperlinked pages too) and I can share only a fraction but here are a few that sing to me:
https://nanshepherdprize.com This prize is changing the landscape of this genre. Every single section on the site is invaluable.
Christina Riley has put such a wonderful thing together here. Have a browse / follow.
Clare Archibald’s inspiring, inclusive site is really making ripples in this area.
https://beachbooks.blog/about/ A gorgeous, generous sea library full of joy.
https://www.elementumjournal.com Submissions are closed for this journal but there is lots of fine work to peruse.
https://www.elsewhere-journal.com This is a superb journal of place, and submission are open.
The Moth Nature Writing prize , The Rialto Nature Poetry Competition and others are great to look at too. There are courses, schemes and more online but I think the most important place to start is by looking and listening, reading and caring; by loving the world and by writing it down in any way you can.
For me, any time any of us looks and listens to the non-human beings we share this earth with – when we pause in humility to acknowledge the interconnectedness of us all – the threads tying us to each other; invisible often, but so strong – we are playing a part in making this a safer, fairer earth. To go one step further, and to write about this connection, to name, explore, celebrate and honour – whether we choose a swan or a stone, a moth or a lough, the wild sea or our gut flora; things nearby or faraway, the known or unknown – we are shining light on one of the most important truths of this earth: our need to be alive, and to remain connected to every other living thing. There is power in trying to find traces of ourselves in the nonhuman, as well as acknowledging our difference. In searching for the beat of something unnameable; the simple act of being alive, at the same time, as each other, and in the same way as even the smallest insect.
Nature Writing holds the hope, for me, of reminding us how to treat everyone and everything on the earth. The best nature writing shines light on places we need to see; on beings we need to learn to accept as our equal. It is only a proper telling of the earth if we can tread gently on the land and the non-human as well as human while we do it. If we can speak honestly of the places and the past – if we can find a way to write it where every single one of us is heard; where each one of us, and our stories, are kept safe.
Kerri ní Dochartaigh is from the North West of Ireland but now lives in the very middle. She writes about nature, literature and place for The Irish Times, The Dublin Review of Books, Caught By The River and others. Her first book, Thin Places , is out with Canongate in January 2021. @kerri_ni @whooperswan
Published 7 July 2020
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21 of the best wildlife and nature books for 2023
From books about zoology and our relationships with animals, to big and beautiful coffee table photography collections, these titles are perfect for the wildlife lover.
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Whether it's a long walk in the countryside, a stroll around the park or even an afternoon of forest bathing in woodland, time spent in nature is never wasted. But for those times when you're stuck at home, a wildlife and nature book can keep you connected with the natural world, or help you to learn more about the species that inhabit it.
We've picked out our selection of the best nature and wildlife books, from stunning photography to animal behaviour. The list includes selections from Sir David Attenborough, Merlin Sheldrake and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
And if that's not enough, check out our list of the best science books to expand your bookshelf even further.
The best books about animals, wildlife and nature
Into the forest: how trees can help you find health and happiness.
£12.99, Penguin Life
Over recent years, we have spent more and more time indoors, and for many of us, this has only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as a species, we're programmed to love the great outdoors. Even just looking at a green space reduces stress and improves psychological wellbeing.
Dr Qing Li explains in Into the Forest how we can take full advantage of nature to improve our physical and mental health.
Edited by Mark Fellowes
£14.99, Ivy Press
The animal kingdom is a beautiful thing, but it is also broad and complex, so the study of zoology can be a daunting prospect for many. This beautifully illustrated book has been put together by University of Reading Professor of Ecology Mark Fellowes, and pulls out 50 of the most fundamental categories and concepts from the study of animals, explaining them in 300 words or fewer (hence ‘30-second zoology’).
More like this
As well as covering a diverse range of subjects, from how we came to understand evolution to the problems posed by habitat loss, the book also profiles some of the most important figures in the field.
- Read an extract from the book: Zoology in 30 seconds: conservation and extinction
A Life on Our Planet: My witness statement and a vision for the future
A message from Britain's favourite naturalist and broadcaster on the Earth, climate change and our responsibilities to the environment.
A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right Sir David Attenborough
- Listen to our podcast with Sir David Attenborough
Becoming Wild: How Animals Learn to be Animals
Throughout the animal kingdom, the genetic tapestry is overlain with more learned culture than humans have realised. But it’s subtle.
Becoming Wild shows that ‘natural’ doesn’t always come naturally. Many animals learn from elders almost everything; getting answers to questions of how to live where one lives; learning skills, dangers, group-identity, communication dialects, and survival traditions that define their existence.
The stories of sperm whales, macaws, and chimpanzees in Becoming Wild represent three major themes of culture: identity, the preference for beauty, and how social living creates tensions that culture must soothe. The species in these pages widen our appreciation of being alive in the world.
Joe Harkness reveals the research into the mental health benefits of observing nature in his book, alongside his own emotive, often witty, anecdotes.
Reading Bird Therapy is like gaining a new friend, one who trusts you with their deepest secrets and in return offers you advice and reassurance that no matter what difficulty you find yourself in, there is support and solace to be found in nature.
- Read about Joe's personal journey with nature and mental health
Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures
£20.00, Bodley Head
The fungal kingdom is as broad and busy a category as that of animals or plants, but fungi are understudied and under-appreciated, says Merlin Sheldrake. He reveals the true extent of their impact on the history of Earth, and on human life, in a way that is easy and enjoyable to read.
With Merlin's lyrical and poetic tone, Entangled Life has the allure of nature or travel writing, but his meticulous research into the latest in scientific understanding of fungi makes this is a must-read for lovers of popular science, too.
- Listen to our podcast with Merlin Sheldrake
Everything You Know About Animals Is Wrong
‘Blind as a bat’; ‘bury your head in the sand’: some animal facts are so well-known that they’ve even made their way into our language. But ‘well-known’ is not the same as ‘true’. Bats aren’t blind at all , and ostriches don’t try to hide their enormous bodies by burying their heads .
Matt Brown takes on these misconceptions and more in Everything You Know About Animals Is Wrong , myth-busting all the common animal ‘facts’ we’ve heard so often since we were children that we just accept them to be true. Get ready to question everything you thought you knew.
Flights of Passage: An Illustrated Natural History of Bird Migration
Mike Unwin and David Tipling
£30, Yale University Press
Every year, millions of birds make incredible journeys across the planet, spanning continents and flying for months on end. We’re used to birds migrating over winter to head towards warmer climes, but we don’t often stop to think about how remarkable this really is. How does the arctic tern travel from its arctic breeding grounds to its summer home in the Antarctic? And how does the swift stay in the air for ten months at a time ?
Writer Mike Unwin and wildlife photographer David Tipling explore this fascinating subject in Flight of Passage , looking into the science behind this bizarre behaviour, accompanied by photos of 67 different species.
- 14 stunning photos of birds making incredible journeys across the Earth
Hélène Druvert and Emmanuelle Grundmann
£19.95, Thames & Hudson
Ocean explains the most fascinating facets of the sea, including waves, coral reefs and the food chain. With captivating fold-out infographics and stunning laser-cut illustrations, it’s a beautiful, interactive tome that’ll help both kids and adults appreciate our oceans.
Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life
£9.99, William Collins
The octopus is essentially an alien species right here on Earth – a sentient being whose intelligence has evolved entirely independently from our own. Godfrey-Smith peers into the minds of these cephalopods, revealing what they can tell us about the nature of consciousness itself.
- Read an extract from Other Minds
Remembering Wildlife series
Wildlife Photographers United
The Remembering Wildlife series was set up by Margot Raggett after seeing a poached elephant in 2014 in Kenya. She then spent six months persuading the world’s best wildlife photographers to donate an image for a book, Remembering Elephants , to raise money to fight poaching.
Since then, books in the Remembering Wildlife series have donated £638,000 to 47 conservation projects in 23 countries. See some of their stunning wildlife photos in this article about the series .
The Animals Among Us: The New Science of Anthrozoology
Why do we keep pets? Bradshaw argues that it goes beyond cuteness and companionship, and all the way back to an ancient connection in our shared past. Weaving together psychology and evolutionary science, the book will give pet owners a newfound appreciation for their furry friends.
- Listen to the our podcast with John Bradshaw
The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What animals on Earth reveal about aliens and ourselves
Dr Arik Kershenbaum
Scientists are increasingly confident that there is life elsewhere in the Universe. But what would that life look like?
Taking the growing body of information about other planets, applying the laws of biology, principles of chemistry, and his knowledge of Earth's history, Kershenbaum presents the possibilities for alien creatures with confidence.
- What do aliens look like? Animals on Earth may hold the answer
Underland: A Deep Time Journey
Robert Macfarlane is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and a journalist writing for top news outlets on environmentalism and travel. All of his books are well worth a read, but this non-fiction book about deep time is a Sunday Times Bestseller, and truly original.
In Underland we journey beneath our feet to find out about Earth's history. It's popular science, nature writing and a travel book, all rolled into one poetic, accessible package.
£16.99, Jonathan Cape
The author of the deeply moving book H is for Hawk returns with Vesper Flights , a collection of essays about the relationship between humans and nature.
Regarded as one of this century's greatest nature writers, Helen Macdonald takes simple moments – of nesting birds, wild boars emerging from the woods, foraging for mushrooms on an autumn day – and weaves them with history, personal reflection and political comment.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 30
Rosamund Kidman Cox
£25, The Natural History Museum
A gorgeous collection of images from the 2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Take a look at some of the incredible wildlife pictures from the book.
Wonders: Spectacular Moments in Nature Photography
£26, Chronicle Books
Wonders features the award-winning images from the BigPicture Natural World Photography competition.
Along with stunning photos, this science book explains the scientific phenomena and photography behind each shot.
The best books of all time
We reckon this is a fine selection of books about wildlife and nature, but if nothing here takes your fancy, take a look at a few more of our book recommendations:
- 16 of the best maths books
- 10 of the best quiz collections and puzzle books
- 5 best physics books, according to Jim Al-Khalili
- AI: 5 of the best must-read artificial intelligence books
- 5 race science books you must read
- Science books for kids: 5 books for budding scientists
Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.
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Creative writing: an introduction to non-fiction nature writing
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The deadline for booking a place on this course has passed. Please use the 'Ask a Question' button to register your interest in future or similar courses.
One great way for you to really appreciate nature can be to put your experience down in words. It doesn't matter if you're not a wildlife expert - describing wildlife by writing about it means you can learn to see more, hear more, smell more, feel more. This course will introduce a range of techniques to help those who are keen to explore their back yard and beyond to make sense of nature. All you need to bring along is a love of wildlife and a willingness to explore.
Given the nature of creative writing, it is important that students' use of English is sufficiently fluent to be able to understand in English nuances of meaning and have a familiarity with the structure and grammar of English.
Aims of the course:
- To explore a range of styles and techniques in writing about nature.
- To develop participants’ skills in observing and capturing nature in words.
- To increase participants’ awareness and appreciation of nature.
Course content overview:
- This course offers students fresh perspectives on producing creative nature writing.
- Students will learn how to sharpen their senses and heighten awareness and understanding of wildlife.
- The course will show how nature writing can be ‘enlivened’, making it real to the reader
Schedule (this course is completed entirely online):
Orientation Week: 25-31 May 2020
Teaching Weeks: 1 June-5 July 2020
Feedback Week: 6-12 July 2020
Each week of an online course is roughly equivalent to 2-3 hours of classroom time. On top of this, participants should expect to spend roughly 2-3 hours reading material, etc., although this will vary from person to person.
While they have a specific start and end date and will follow a weekly schedule (for example, week 1 will cover topic A, week 2 will cover topic B), our tutor-led online courses are designed to be flexible and as such would normally not require participants to be online for a specific day of the week or time of the day (although some tutors may try to schedule times where participants can be online together for web seminars, which will be recorded so that those who are unable to be online at certain times are able to access material).
Unless otherwise stated, all course material will be posted on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) so that they can be accessed at any time throughout the duration of the course and interaction with your tutor and fellow participants will take place through a variety of different ways which will allow for both synchronous and asynchronous learning (discussion boards,etc).
A Certificate of Participation will be awarded to participants who contribute constructively to weekly discussions and exercises/assignments for the duration of the course.
Course textbook/required sources
- No textbook is required reading but students would be advised to use the great outdoors as a source of inspiration, ideas and as a writing laboratory.
- Students should read widely from nature writing – both historic and contemporary. A suggested reading list will be provided.
What our students say - October 2018
“I enjoyed this course much more than I anticipated. I felt the progression over the weeks was well structured and gave us something concrete to practise and build on.”
“Derek’s very fast feedback on our exercises was much-appreciated (and spot-on). His personality also came across in his comments and the respect and care he showed for the students and their work was evident.”
This course is open to everyone, and you don’t need any previous knowledge or experience of the subject to attend.
Our online courses are designed especially for adult learners who want to advance their personal or professional development. They are taught by tutors who are expert in both their subjects and in teaching students of all ages and experiences.
Given the nature of creative writing, it is important that students' use of English is sufficiently fluent to be able to understand in English nuances of meaning and have a familiarity with the structure and grammar of English. Please note that all teaching is in English. You should have near-native command of the English language in order to get the maximum benefit from the course.
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British nature writing is booming: we always look to the natural world in times of crisis
Books about the natural world are selling like never before. Boudicca Fox-Leonard speaks to authors to find out why
It is an irony that in an age where 41 per cent of the UK’s wildlife species have declined since the 1970s, one in particular is alive and thriving: the nature writer.
The trumpeting of a golden age of nature writing has lasted half a decade and shows no sign of falling silent. The plethora of new titles each year can mean it sometimes feels like the less nature we have, the more nature books there are.
Yet successes such as Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path , more than 430,000 copies sold and film rights optioned, have been a blessing for a publishing industry that’s also struggled in the Anthropocene.
The discovery of a reading public that wants to escape the digital world, either by getting outdoors, or the next best thing, reading about it, has been a saving grace. According to Nielsen Book Research , sales of nature books in 2019 were 40 per cent higher than in 2010. Last year, £15.6 million was spent on natural history titles in the UK, the highest total since official sales records began in the late 1990s.
This autumn, new works from Macdonald and Winn are published, as well as English Pastoral by James Rebanks, author of A Shepherd’s Life , and Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane, a follow-up to the beautiful, and political The Lost Words .
Such releases for those hooked on the genre palpate the heart as much as the prospect of an actual golden eagle being released in Snowdonia.
For John Lewis-Stempel, a farmer and two-times winner of the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing, it is without doubt the most important genre in writing at the moment. “Because it’s the genre that could, without being too vainglorious, save the planet,” says the author of The Running Hare , among many other titles.
“The world has 99 problems and Covid is only one of them. I think what we’re doing to the planet is much more important than a virus.”
His first books on nature were very much typical of the nature writing revival, with alarm calls on behalf of threatened habitats and species. “I really wanted to make people aware of what we were losing and I think that’s a very strong part of the genre as it is at the moment.”
He is a judge of this year’s Wainwright prize. Named in honour of Alfred Wainwright, the British fell-walker, author and illustrator, it originally celebrated UK-based writers, but has seen its borders grow as the genre has blossomed.
The winner will be announced on Sept 9, and this year the prize has expanded to include a second award for global conservation writing.
Katie Hale, Waterstones non-fiction buyer, says: “I think this reflects that the genre is now central to a number of much wider conversations.” Alastair Giles, founder of Agile Ideas , which runs several literary prizes and book promotions, recalls being approached seven years ago about the idea of a new prize for nature writing.
“I remember at the time thinking, ‘This is an interesting little genre, we’ll see how this goes.’ But it has just soared. “It’s the most supported literary prize in independent book shops.”
Winstone’s in Sherborne, Dorset, is just one independent bookseller that has doubled and then tripled its allocation for nature books in the past six years. The shop holds regular well-attended events with authors such as Stephen Moss.
When Isabella Tree, author of Wilding , the bestselling nature book of 2019 according to Nielsen Book Research, visited, the event it sold out, with the shop speculating they could have sold twice as many tickets.
Even in the weeks since lockdown was lifted, sales have jumped by around 16 per cent, which demonstrates a further reawakening in interest in the natural world around us. Lewis-Stempel believes the origins of the zeal for nature writing can be traced back to the 2008 financial crisis.
“It killed the gods of Mammon and people started looking for real value in their lives. And they started looking to nature. It’s what the British do in times of crisis, for salve and solution. And that’s exactly what’s happening again with Covid.”
Joe Shute, Telegraph feature writer and author of A Shadow Above , agrees. “I think the popularity of these books is down to that lack of connection people have with the natural world,” says Shute, whose next book, Forecast: A Diary of the Lost Seasons is published in the spring. “As nature writing itself becomes more diverse I hope it can provide a bridge to opening up the wonders of nature to a more diverse audience.”
Nature writing has been accused of being little more than bourgeois escapism, predominately the domain of the white upper-middle-class male. It’s an imbalance that British-Canadian-Taiwanese nature writer Jessica J Lee has taken active steps to address.
In 2018 she founded The Willowherb Review , an online magazine born out of a frustration with prizes that lacked diverse shortlists and a weariness at reading editorial pieces bemoaning a lack of diversity in nature writing. Her aim was to forge a community and give opportunities to writers to get their ideas to a wider audience.
“Nature and environment are cross-cultural issues. If we want to talk about climate change then it doesn’t make sense to look at it from one local perspective,” says the author of Two Trees Make a Forest .
A Kickstarter was funded within two days. She’s gone from 70 submissions per issue to more than 300. “It’s been really heartening in terms of knowing there are that many writers of colour wanting to break into nature writing.”
Already one Willowherb contributor, Nina Mingya Powles , won the Nan Shepherd Prize in 2019, and her book of nature writing, Magnolia , will be published by Canongate next year.
Jini Reddy , another Willowherb contributor, is on this year’s Wainwright shortlist for her book Wanderland , which encompasses memoir, nature and spirituality. Having forged a career as a travel writer, she worried about how her book would be received.
“I’m not coming from an academic space or a naturalist’s perspective. I was just someone who was curious and wanted to go on that journey and has ended up here.”
However, she points to writers such as Richard Powers, whose novel The Overstory , about the wisdom of trees, won the Pulitzer Prize, and Melissa Harrison , who writes novels steeped in nature, to show how broad the genre has become.
“There are people who like to cook and are interested in foraging. Or someone who’s into meditation and just sitting somewhere with a sunset is their way of connecting with the environment,” says Reddy.
Within any large group of people seeking to communicate their passions, though, there is bound to be conflict. The nature writing world is no exception. In the words of Lewis-Stempel: “It’s not as if we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Both he and Rebanks, as farmers, have frequently found themselves at odds with the fervour for rewilding that has dominated the nature writing agenda; from George Monbiot ’s Feral to Tree’s account of rewilding the Knepp Estate .
As such, Lewis-Stempel prefers to describe himself as a countryside writer. “An observer from the inside, looking out and trying to explain what we’re doing.”
Sticking up for a countryside way of life and a landscape built up over centuries of human intervention has at times resulted in messages online from people saying they’re going to burn his books. “Which is a bit odd, because I actually farm as much for nature as I do for food production.”
However, he believes that it is the change in mores that distinguishes the current boom in nature writing from that of the 1950s and 1960s. “If you go back and look at someone like BB ( Denys Watkins-Pitchford ), he was a proper countryman and a top nature writer, but regularly went out shooting. No one loved nature more than BB, but he would be beyond the pale in current nature writing.”
For Lewis- Stempel, nature is, in the words of Tennyson, “red in tooth and claw”. He’s less keen on the sentimental end of the genre that has emerged, phrasing such narratives “Heroic Me” (“Author goes on quest to find 50 butterflies in Britain in 50 weeks”) and “Misery Me” (“Nature healed me”).
“I don’t think it should be about us any more, I think it should be about going back to basics and seeing what we can do to conserve it and advance it,” he says.
Lee, also a judge on this year’s Wainwright panel, agrees that now isn’t the time for a non-critical celebration of the natural world, but highlights the urgent need to help people relate to it.
“It doesn’t make sense to just tell people facts about the natural world and environmental crisis. People need to connect with it intimately, personally and sensorially, and that’s what nature writing allows us to do.
It’s to make people think, ‘I can have an experience like the writer’s by going out into the natural world.’ I think it motivates a large part of the public to care.”
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We're Living Through A Golden Age Of Nature Writing
Digital fatigue and environmental disaster have, paradoxically, lead to a resurgence of books on the power and meaning of the great outdoors. Here are some of the best
At a moment of personal crisis in her own life, British writer Olivia Laing walks the length of the river Ouse, the stretch of water where more than sixty years ago Virginia Woolf drowned herself. Over the course of a week walking from source to the sea she traces the memories of the writer's life that lurk beneath the surface of the water, and in turn grapples with her own ghosts.
You might recognise the striking cover from seeing it dotted around tube carriages and airport terminals a few years ago. This award-winning book tells of how, in a moment of grief after her father's death, Macdonald spent £800 on a goshawk and tried to train it. Released in the same year as Max Porter's Grief is the Thing with The Feathers, it begun a trend of books which look to animals and nature for answers on life and death.
The Quietus co-founder Luke Turner's debut novel opens in the wreckage of a relationship as he comes to terms with being bisexual. Against the backdrop of the Epping Forest, which Turner has grown up in the shadow of, Out Of The Woods fuses the history of the forest with the winding paths and dead-ends of Turner's own life. In doing so it achieves that tricky balance of feeling both deeply personal and totally universal.
One of the most popular examples of the new nature trend, Liptrot's book finds her returning to her hometown of Orkney as alcoholism threatens to engulf her life. By swimming and walking the sparsely populated island, its patterns of rebirth are a symbol of perseverance and growth. In coming home she finds a way back to herself.
Water is both a mysterious and unknowable entity and a soothing tonic in Deakin's book about swimming through the British Isles. From the water he gains what he calls a "'frog's eye view" of the country, after incidents like being stopped and held by water bailiffs in Winchester and mistaken for a suicide on Camber sands. This fresh perspective from water also offers a reflection of his own life.
Distressed at capitalism and meaninglessness of life in modern cities, environmentalist George Monbiot retreats to rural Wales. The result of is a compelling case for the peace to be found from a simpler life and the solace that can be found in nature. A book that will have you longing to escape the rat race in favour of gulping some fresh air.
One the country's foremost nature writers, this book marked a departure for Richard Mabey who moved to a new part of the country following a bout of depression. There he renegotiates his longstanding relationship with the outdoors. The result is a book that sings with the restorative joys of nature.
Solnit is mesmerising when writing on anything, be it Trump's election or mansplaning. This collection of essays is no different and finds a common theme in moments of uncertainty and change. In one standout, she ponders the fate of tortoises, threading together a memory of riding one in a zoo with their modern fate in our crumbling environment. Throughout, history, nature and Solnit's memories collide to create something meditative and stirring.
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MASTERCLASS: How to Write About Nature – with Anita Sethi
Nature writing is enjoying a boom. Join the author of I Belong Here for an enlightening workshop on how to observe and describe the natural world.
Available on demand to Publishing Talk members .
Explore nature writing with Anita Sethi
Has getting out into nature helped you during lockdown? How do you observe, describe and incorporate the natural world in your writing? Anita Sethi lifts the lid on nature writing.
Nature writing is nonfiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment. It encompasses a wide range of writing, from natural history to memoir to travel writing, history and current affairs.
There has been a resurgence in nature writing in recent years. The ‘new nature writing’ is a publishing phenomenon, and often includes personal observations and reflections upon nature. It may be deeply personal, and explore the potential of the natural landscape to help overcome grief and trauma, in beautifully-written prose.
With such a range of approaches, themes and forms to explore, where do you start?
What we will cover:
- What is nature writing?
- How to observe and describe nature
- How the ‘new nature writing’ opens up new possibilities
- How to put yourself into the landscape in your writing
- Approaches, tips, tools and techniques
- Valuable insights, tips and advice from Anita Sethi
- Chance to ask Anita anything about nature writing – and her book
- Access to a video replay of the event
About Anita Sethi
Anita Sethi was born in Manchester, UK where her love of nature first flourished in childhood, in wild urban spaces. I Belong Here is the first in her nature writing trilogy. She has contributed to anthologies including Seasons, Common People and Women on Nature, has written for The Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Vogue, BBC Wildlife and New Statesman, and appeared on various BBC Radio programmes.
She has been shortlisted for Northern Writer of the Year at the Northern Soul Awards and Journalist of the Year at the Asian Media Awards, and has judged the British Book Awards and Society of Authors Awards. Her career highlights include going birdwatching with Margaret Atwood in the UK’s oldest nature reserve.
Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @anitasethi.
About I Belong Here
‘A brilliant, brave and important book’ – Robert Macfarlane
I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain is the first book in Anita Sethi’s nature writing trilogy. It is a journey of reclamation through the natural landscapes of the North, brilliantly exploring identity, nature, place and belonging. Beautifully written and truly inspiring, I Belong Here heralds a powerful and refreshing new voice in nature writing.
Anita Sethi was on a journey through Northern England when she became the victim of a race-hate crime. The crime was a vicious attack on her right to exist in a place on account of her race.
The Pennines – known as ‘the backbone of Britain’ – called to Anita with a magnetic force; although a racist had told her to leave, she felt drawn to further explore the area she regards as her home, to immerse herself deeply in place.
Anita transforms her personal experience into one of universal resonance, offering a call to action, to keep walking onwards. Every footstep taken is an act of persistence. Every word written against the rising tide of hate speech, such as this book, is an act of resistance.
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We’re in a golden age of nature writing — and a more inclusive range of voices is bringing the genre to life
This year’s winner of the wainwright prize for nature writing is an autistic teenager’s passionate portrayal of his intense connection with the natural world.
We are said to be in a “golden age” of British nature writing. Sales of natural history books are up 40 per cent from just a decade ago, and there is a new crop of literary prizes for the genre, from the Wainwright Prize to the Nan Shepherd .
But as a writer and reader of the genre, these are not the only reasons I’m excited. I’m excited to be finally witnessing a shift in who we imagine a nature writer might be, and who we think may be reading their work.
I was 16 when I first read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring . It was the first time I had found a writing style as rich with knowledge as it was with sheer beauty. After this I read deeply across Anglo-American nature writing, taking environmental humanities courses at university and going on to do a PhD in environmental history. I fell in love with books that encountered the world sensuously, tackling environmental crises through the head and heart.
What I rarely saw mirrored, however, was my own mixed-heritage identity, let alone the stories of migrants, the working classes, or disabled people.
Nature writing and belonging
By my mid-twenties, having moved continents twice, I was struggling to relate to nature writers who lived on the land of their ancestors, who owned land to begin with, and who seemed to have the time and ability to roam the countryside secure in the knowledge they belonged there.
I wrote my first book, Turning , in 2015, using its pages to question how language and identity shaped how I relate to nature: how home for me was a word in Mandarin, how coming from a family of immigrants meant I didn’t feel an automatic belonging in the landscapes I encountered.
This feeling led to writing my second book, Two Trees Make a Forest , about how migration and landscape intertwine. It was an attempt to understand my mother’s homeland of Taiwan through a style of writing I had only ever seen applied to British landscapes.
But as I worked, I felt an acute loneliness. I knew only a handful of other nature writers of colour, and wondered if the shift many of us were hoping for just wasn’t on the horizon.
Nature writing got me through tough teen years — now I want it to help others
Nature writers of colour
In the summer of 2018, to foster community, I founded The Willowherb Review , a literary journal platforming nature writers of colour. It was crowd-funded in two days, so I knew the demand existed. But I still worried that we would get no submissions, that I was dreaming a problem into existence. As pieces rolled in for the first issue, I exhaled in relief.
This summer, as the third issue received submissions in their hundreds, I danced around my kitchen. Many of them came appended with notes from writers saying that until now, they hadn’t felt that nature writing had a place for them.
But working on the journal helped me realise that it isn’t enough to platform new voices. We also need to rethink who our intended readers are. We publish writers from all around the world – nature doesn’t simply stop at the border of Britain and we try to reflect that.
We don’t italicise non-English words (a sure-fire way to mark them as “foreign”) and don’t insist that writers translate them. After all, more than half the global population is bilingual or multilingual, accustomed to acts of translation. We edit with the belief that our readers – be they white, Black, Asian, straight, working class or not – can find merit in writers’ experiences without having every detail explained to an assumed white audience.
Signs of change
I see encouraging changes across the genre in Britain: this year’s Wainwright Prize (disclosure: I’m on the judging panel) shortlisted a book by writer of colour – Jini Reddy’s Wanderland – for the very first time in its history, as well as Mike Parker’s queer history of place, On the Red Hill , and autistic author Dara McAnulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalist , hailing a new generation of writers and readers.
The prize finally opened a stream for books that go beyond our borders, the Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation. And next year two writers of colour will publish nature books: Nina Mingya Powles’s Nan Shepherd Prize-winning Small Bodies of Water and Anita Sethi’s I Belong Here . It feels, at last, like there is a progressive, inclusive community in the genre.
This matters. Because both writers and readers – all people, albeit disproportionately – are impacted by climate change and biodiversity loss, by access to land, and legacies of empire.
Inclusivity cannot merely be a trend. It’s an acknowledgement that we’re going to need this multitude of voices, ways of being, and languages as we confront the crises to come.
Jessica J Lee is a judge for the 2020 Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing
Wainwright Prize 2020 – this year’s winners This year’s winners of the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing were announced at a virtual ceremony on 8 September. Dara McAnulty, aged 16, has won the main award for Diary of a Young Naturalist , a compelling portrayal of his intense connection to the natural world alongside his perspective as an autistic teenager juggling exams, friendships and a life of campaigning. The chair of judges, Julia Bradbury, called the book “nuanced, passionate and caring”. The winner in a new prize category for books about global conservation and climate change is Benedict Macdonald with Rebirding . The book sets out a manifesto for restoring Britain’s wildlife, rewilding its species and restoring rural jobs.
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THEMES / ARTS & CULTURE / NEW NATURE WRITING
What is the nature of prosperity? That deceptively simple question motivates our work in the Centre for the Understanding of Prosperity (CUSP). What can prosperity possibly mean on a finite planet? How can we lead decent, healthy, fulfilling lives in ways that don’t trash the climate or lead to a catastrophic decline in biodiversity? What does it mean to live well and to be well, to flourish and to thrive, and to do so in ways that don’t jeopardise the world we leave to our children? These are the questions that motivate our research and structure our work programme. 1
To inquire into the nature of something is also, of course, to ask about the relationship between that something and the natural world. To understand the nature of prosperity we must explore the ‘prosperity of nature’. That task goes beyond science or economics. It demands an engagement with humanities and the arts. If it is to mean anything at all the prosperity of nature has as much to do with the beauty of the natural world as it does with its integrity and its function. The scientist stands before the intricacy of nature and asks ‘how?’. The artist stands before its majesty and breathes ‘wow!’.
Nature writing has its roots in a seamless elision between the ‘how?’ and the ‘wow!’. The writer often seen as the originator of the genre was a country parson living an unostentatious life in the village of Selborne, just a few miles away from the University of Surrey where CUSP has its base. Gilbert White’s collection of letters and essays on The Natural History of Selborne was enormously popular when it was first published in 1788 and has remained in print ever since. It once held claim to being the fourth most published work in the English language, after the Bible, Shakespeare and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress . That was before Harry Potter arrived on the scene, of course. 2
The progression of White’s work is fascinating. It started out as a minute observational diary of local flora and fauna. It evolved into an increasingly poetic expression of the prosperity of nature. Perhaps because he straddled the two worlds, his writing was hugely influential on both scientists and artists. Darwin and Wordsworth both professed to have been swayed by him, even as art and the sciences began to diverge from each other. Accurate typology and florid prose don’t easily live together, perhaps. As science increasingly sought its legitimacy in ‘fact’, enchantment became the domain of poetry and romance.
The schism was never as definitive as its architects intended. But it led to a curious divergence between two competing myths about nature. In one of them the natural world is the site of a violent, never-ending struggle for survival—Tennyson’s ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’. In the other, ‘Mother Nature’ is a rural idyll, beneficent and infinitely kind to us. The fate of these myths through the course of the 19th and early 20th Century was a curious one. Violence embedded itself in science and economics. Beneficence retired to the domain of romance and poetry. Science became gendered to its core, dominated by masculine memes of struggle. Economics became obsessed with competition. …
Desperate to re-enchant the world, nature writing worked itself into an impossible corner, ripe for parody. And parody duly arrived in 1932, in the form of Stella Gibbons’ comic novel Cold Comfort Farm . For several decades after the novel was published, argues the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, nature writing itself went into retreat. 3 Poetic descriptions of the natural world were hard to sustain in the wake of Gibbons’ satire. But there is, it seems, something irrepressible, inescapable even, in our need to convey the natural world in words. To fathom its mystery. To exalt its beauty. To tame its cruelty. To understand its existential cycle of birth and decay. The end of the 20th Century and the first decade of this one saw a powerful re-emergence of the genre.
In its revitalised form, ‘new nature writing’—as it has become known—acquired some novel traits. Still present was the poetic natural history writer—the ‘gentleman observer’ of former times. But new nature writing was also deeply informed by the ecological crisis in which we now find ourselves. One strand of writing engages in political dissent against the ravages of capitalism. Another mourns the losses that assault the natural world. A third seeks an almost therapeutic solace in our fragile connection to what remains. As my CUSP colleagues Ian Christie and Kate Oakley highlighted in their call for contributions to this collection, there is a sense in which new nature writing is ‘a huge rolling process of documentation of what we have lost, what we love, and what we fear we will lose next.’ 4
The resurgent genre is by no means free from controversy or even immune to parody. On the contrary it seems to be a more contested domain than ever. One of the most telling critiques relates to diversity. Kathleen Jamie reacts against a continuing dominance of nature writing by educated, white men. ‘What’s that coming over the hill?’ she asks, in breathless imitation of a certain breathless nature documentary narrator. ‘A white, middle-class Englishman! A Lone Enraptured Male! From Cambridge!’ 5
The caricature may be cruel. The point is clear. Diversity matters. Our relationship to the natural world cannot remain the preserve of elites. Who writes and who gets published; who listens and who gets listened to: these things matter deeply in a world tormented by inequalities of race and gender, income and access. The prosperity of nature is an empty promise if it remains inaccessible to the poorest in society.
Diversity was one of our principal aims for this collection of essays. And it’s clearly something we have at least partially achieved. There is considerable diversity of background, age and circumstance, within this volume. Much less diversity in gender, as it happens. Not a single one of our authors falls into the category that Jamie derides. All of our writers are women. Taken against a backdrop dominated by the Lone Enraptured Male, we should probably count that as a success.
There was something else we were looking for in this call. One of our themes in CUSP is the role of the arts in achieving a sustainable prosperity. CUSP researchers Malaika Cunningham and Marit Hammond have argued that artistic creativity is exactly what is needed to begin to imagine and negotiate a better world. The writer Lucy Neal too has pointed to the role of the ‘citizen artist’ as an agent of change. ‘When the facts and figures of climate change cannot catalyse the shifts needed in our world,’ she writes, ‘the arts can open us to different ways of seeing and feeling, creating emergent space to rethink the future and change the world—collectively.’ 7 Our nature writing call set out specifically to explore this idea. How can nature writing contribute to the common good, we wanted to know? Could writing about nature ‘help generate a collective and popular politics of conservation and connection’, asked Kate Oakley and Ian Christie.>
There is a danger of course that, in searching within art for the change that science has so far failed to deliver, we end up instrumentalising both art and artists. That would be a mistake. And it certainly wasn’t our intention. On the contrary, it’s a central hypothesis in CUSP that art itself is intrinsic to our prosperity. Creativity is something without which human beings cannot truly be said to thrive. The nature of prosperity is in its essence creative.
None of our authors has fallen into the trap of instrumentalising art. In fact, there is less obvious evidence than we might have hoped for here to support the idea that nature writing can play any direct role in activism. The essays that follow don’t call on us to renounce capitalism. They don’t incite revolution. They don’t represent any particular call to arms at all. But there is nonetheless something compelling to emerge from this handful of pieces from unpublished authors.>
One strand picks up on the therapeutic vein that runs through new nature writing. Claire Mascall, Caroline Bateson and Sophie Lawson explore the extraordinary restorative power of nature in coping with trauma and loss. Not, as might be expected, through some elegiac appreciation of ethereal beauty. Almost the opposite. It is as much the falling leaves and the sodden earth, the scent of decay and its whispers of mortality that somehow elicit comfort. Dazzled occasionally by shafts of light. But content to find solace in the earth.
A sense of the ordinary made extraordinary is echoed by those authors who reflect on the prosperity of nature in urban environments. Liz Child, Orlaith Delargy and Mahima Sukhdev each find fascination in the endless creativity of nature’s uneasy relationship with brick and concrete. ‘Life doesn’t burst here, it wavers.’ Or else it seeks its prosperity ‘on the y-axis’ of a high-rise city neighbourhood. But we’re reminded too, that these survival strategies depend to some extent on our own, sometimes amateur role as the custodians of nature’s possibilities. And sometimes as their executioner.
Almost all of the essays convey the deeply personal nature of our relationships to nature. Words are both a mirror and a prism. Writing about anything teaches us as much about ourselves as it does about the object of our attention, as Jacqueline Hitt and Frances Voelcker both intimate. So does our fascination with nature. We are uneasy in the face of its cruelty. We are moved by its frailty. We are comforted by its cycles of renewal. These emotions matter to us. Nature needs saving, not just for its own sake, but for ours, our authors imply.
There is something in the totality of these essays which reminds me of another writer, not normally regarded as a nature writer, but a close contemporary of Gilbert White. In around 1750, Christopher Smart was about the most famous man in London—a celebrated poet and satirist; and a key figure in 18th Century society. A few years later, after an uneasy relationship with alcohol, he was incarcerated in an asylum for ‘praying too fervently in public’.
Languishing in unimaginable conditions for almost 5 years, he composed two of the most extraordinary poems in the English language, the chaotic and charismatic Jubilate Agno , and the haunting, elegiac Song to David . 8 Both poems express something profound. That language is not just a lens through which we see the world. It is the means through which we continually build and rebuild it. To shape our words to the language of nature, as Smart does in his two asylum poems, is to align ourselves once again with the sly logic and slow rhythm of the planet. It’s an idea that Joanna Garrard comes closest to, perhaps, in her moving reflection on autism, nature and time. But it is a truth inherent in all the pieces you will find in the following pages.
Perhaps what we have here is, after all, a form of activism. Perhaps it contains the seeds if not of revolution then of transformation. These essays are the personal responses of unpublished writers to a casual ‘new nature writing’ challenge thrown out by CUSP a year or so ago. Their fragmented, kaleidoscopic brilliance reveals a fundamental truth: to train our poetry on the prosperity of nature is exactly what is needed if we are to reframe—and retrieve—the nature of prosperity.
Director, Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP)
The New Wave of British Nature Writing shows no sign of breaking. This century has seen an outpouring of books—memoir, travel, and fiction, as well as natural history works—focusing on the countryside, our relationship with other creatures, and particular species and habitats. The field is dominated by the remarkable work of the academic and writer Robert Macfarlane, who has championed ‘lost’ nature writers such as JA Baker, author of The Peregrine , and Nan Shepherd, author of The Living Mountain , as well as producing his own influential books on walking, wilderness and the language of natural history.
The pandemic of 2020 might have pushed us all indoors for much of the past year, but it has almost certainly stimulated more desire to immerse ourselves in nature writing as well as in the natural world. Academic research increasingly reveals the extent to which our health and wellbeing are entwined with our access to the more-than-human world of other creatures, landscapes, the ‘great outdoors’. As the title of a new book ( The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the time of Coronavirus , by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren), on the ‘pandemic Spring’ of 2020 suggests, contact with nature offers us consolations in the face of human crises—and so does the genre of New Nature Writing.
Part of the appeal of nature writing in its long history in modern Britain—explored in the academic research project Land Lines —has been its evocation of a world that can give us respite, consolation and comfort in the face of industrial society’s relentless expansion. The major waves of nature writing can be seen as a response to a widespread experience of disruption, loss, fear and grief, as ‘nature’ is threatened by ‘development’. The last major surge of nature writing before this century came in the 1930s and 1940s, as writers responded to the large-scale expansion of towns and suburbs, eating into the countryside and eroding ‘traditional’ countryside and ways of life, and then to the fears generated by World War 2.
What accounts for the upsurge of nature writing in this century? Part of the answer must be the nostalgia and longing for the imagined comforts of rural life. Urban environments associated with stress, ugliness and work—and now with the intensification of pandemic —generate a desire to ‘escape to the country’. New nature writing meets a need for consolation and ‘nature therapy’. However, the lesson from previous waves of nature writing tells us to look at sources of threat, anxiety and loss to understand the deep sources of interest in the genre. The new popularity of nature writing surely reflects widespread and growing anxieties about urban people’s disconnection from the ‘natural world’, and about the implications of the global and local environmental crises we face—above all, climate disruption and the massive loss of biodiversity.
Many works in the new nature writing wave give evidence for this. As in the 1930’s surge of natural history and topographic writing—see for example the work of HJ Massingham—there is a sense that a mass stock-taking is under way, a fearful audit of what we’ve lost, what we stand to lose, and what that means for us. Nature writing intersects in this sense with the documentation by ecologists and environmental campaigners of loss of wildlife, landscapes and flora. Many nature writers clearly hope to be playing a part, by offering witness to the state of the natural world, in a large-scale consciousness-raising process.
If that is the case, we can ask whether the new nature writing is living up to that potential for raising awareness and bringing people to act in new ways to protect and appreciate the more-than-human world we’re embedded in. Can nature writing really be a force for ecological awareness-raising, and even more ambitiously, for helping save what we stand to lose? Can it add to the political and social movements for sustainable living and a reimagination of the good life, of sustainable prosperity, explored in the CUSP programme? In a recent journal paper written with Jon Ward 1 we examined the potential of NNW as a form of arts activism . How might the genre be engaged more effectively with our unfolding environmental crises, and help generate a collective and popular politics of nature conservation and re-connection of people, place, creatures and landscape?
In this study, we found that although the genre has produced many brilliant pieces of work over the past 20 years, persistent concerns arise about how far it can live up to its potential—and ambition—to help in a revaluation of attitudes, language and ways of life. The major issues we identify concern first, whether the types of writing being produced can connect to a cooperative social and political response to the degradation underway of climate stability, ecosystems, landscapes and biodiversity; and second, whether there is enough diversity of voice and place in the present wave of nature writing.
The first concern is about the content of much of the new wave of work. What is striking are its individual focus and, within this, its emphasis on epiphany, therapy, lament and celebration. The writing often is about lone exploration of a place—or of many places, possibly expensively reached by the author—and about the translation of close hyper-sensitive attention to nature into fine prose. There is also a strong element of using the more-than-human world as the source of therapy for physical or mental afflictions. There is nothing wrong with this, and as we say, many wonderful works have emerge from the individualist-epiphanic mode of nature writing. However, this kind of writing is in tension with the ambition, whether explicit or unspoken, to help generate a new consciousness and new action concerning the conservation of the threatened places and creatures being written about. The author is a lone voice, offering up striking narratives of personal epiphany, and evoking grief, lament, loss and remembrance of what has gone or might soon be destroyed as the crises of unsustainable industrial development unfold.
We don’t say that everyone writing in this mode should stop and move into political agitation. But we do wonder whether more of this style of nature writing is capable of connecting people to collective tasks of protection, restoration and renewal needed for effective action on the climate and biodiversity crises we face. What is missing in the new nature writing has been vivid documentary writing on the social and political dimensions of conservation and change in landscape and our relations with other creatures and habitats. The UK, under any conceivable combination of parties in government in coming years, is about to embark on massive programmes of change in environmental policy: farmers will be incentivised to produce ecological ‘public goods’ along with food crops; there will be many projects to ‘rewild’ degraded landscapes and to reintroduce lost species; there will be many more projects for urban greening; for re-foresting of the depleted woodlands of the UK; for radical decarbonization of agriculture and all our foundational systems of production and consumption. What will new nature writers do to connect to this huge agenda, and to the social, cultural and political contests at the grassroots that it will generate? We hope to see more nature writing that makes the inescapable social and political dimension of nature conservation and renewal—the generation of common cause and its complications—more of a priority in the telling of stories about our relations with the more-than-human world.
As for the range of authors and places, we hope to see a wider range of people of all ages and backgrounds, enter the field. That hope for more diversity is not a dismissal of the largely white male writers who have been to the fore so far. Rather, it’s a recognition that the places and creatures we want to conserve, revive and enjoy need the efforts of every part of our society. That means the new nature writing needs more people from ethnic minorities, from suburbs and cities, young people and the elderly, and people in areas of outstanding natural neglect as well of outstanding natural beauty. And that feeling led to CUSP’s commissioning of the competition that produced this collection— Nature Writing for the Common Good . We wanted to play a part in expanding the range of authors and opening up new subject matter, with the social and political challenges of cooperative action in mind.
We’re glad to have stimulated a rich response from unpublished authors, and to have enthused our expert and distinguished panel of judges, all contributors themselves to nature writing in diverse ways. We’re also pleased to see that since our project was launched, numerous prizes and other initiatives have been set up to promote more diversity of voice and content in the new nature writing.
The genre is thriving, but the world it describes in such attentive and impassioned ways is not. The loss of wildlife, landscapes and resilience in the UK’s countryside and cities has been immense and it will take a huge effort of collective will and resources to put it right, and to do so while we also tackle the climate crisis. New nature writing in the 2020s and beyond needs more diversity of voice and a richer social dimension, if it is to live up to its potential and ambition as a means of raising and consciousness and being a catalyst for new values and ways of living.
Ian Christie & Kate Oakley
The Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity is an international research centre, based in the UK. Our guiding vision for sustainable prosperity is one in which people everywhere have the capability to flourish as human beings—within the ecological and resource constraints of a finite planet. Our work explores not just the economic aspects of this challenge, but also its social, political and philosophical dimensions. CUSP considers the role of arts and culture not simply as a tool for communicating sustainability, or as a way of envisioning the good life but as an inherent component of prosperity itself.
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How to be a nature writer
Dialogue Books publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove shares her inspiration and advice on nature writing
SHARMAINE LOVEGROVE, publisher of Dialogue Books, has teamed up with the Forestry Commission to find undiscovered nature writers. She talks to Writers Online about her own influences and engaging audiences when writing about the natural world.
This winter, I’m working with the Forestry Commission on a project to discover new voices inspired by nature. As part of its centenary in 2019, the Commission is – for the first time – seeking two writers-in-residence to tell the story of the nation’s forests.
It’s a wonderful opportunity for any writer; a chance to understand our woodlands, the people who work there and wildlife that calls them home.
When sifting through ideas and designs, I’ll be looking for innovation and imagination to tell the whole story. Our forests are full of magic and mystery, but they’re also functional landscapes, providing space for wildlife, recreation and indispensable raw materials.
I’m privileged to be involved in judging applications for the residency, but even more excited to hear from different people about what forests mean to them.
Personally, I didn’t grow up in the countryside. I was born in London, and I have spent the majority of my life in cities. But that doesn’t mean I was disconnected from nature.
Whether it was spending time in the capital’s vast public parks (Battersea Park, Wandsworth and Clapham Common were a stone’s throw from where I lived), or exploring forest trails on the edge of the city, I was always out discovering green spaces.
There I found refuge from a busy London life. I relished how being outside made me cheerful and relaxed. Importantly, I knew these sanctuaries were always there. Whenever I wanted a calmer space, there was always somewhere to go.
I love big urban hubs, and I think they are fascinating places to grow up. But everyone needs time away from the intensity of city-life. If spending time outdoors gave me some respite, books and stories took things to a whole different level.
At home, on the bus, or in some green corner of the capital, I became lost in chronicles and characters from around the world.
While my reading has never been constricted, there have been experiences that have influenced my book selection over the years. My Jamaican roots for example, led me to read The Lonely Londoners by Sam Sevlon and The Book of Night Women by Marlon James.
Similarly, my interest in politics and culture steered me to Austerlitz by WG Sebald and The Shape of a Pocket by John Berger.
Another huge influence on my life has been writings about the natural world. If I wasn’t able to physically experience faraway places, I could transport myself there through the written word.
Reading books such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Awakenings by Kathleen Jamie and Stargazing by Peter Hill really shaped my relationship with the natural world. More recently, nature memoirs such as The Outrun by Amy Liptrot or Out of the Woods by Luke Turner, and the novel Swansong by Kerry Andrew have sparked a renewed interest in how nature can play a positive, restorative role in our lives.
Finding inspiration from nature
As a publisher, people often ask me for advice about how to improve their work – nature writing included. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I hope my perspective can be of some value.
Inspiration is essential. And so it’s important to make time to enjoy the places that make you feel creative and enthused. When it comes to nature writing, this doesn’t mean you have to explore a tropical rainforest or colossal mountain range every week. It may be as simple as sitting at the edge of a local river, or sauntering through woodland close to home.
One of the best things about England is that it’s easy to reach beautiful green spaces from anywhere in the country. Even people living in the middle of big cities like Birmingham or Manchester are less than an hour’s train or bus ride from glorious British countryside.
These days I live in Bristol, which is brilliant for getting outdoors. Leigh Woods hugs the west edge of the city, while the rolling hills of the Cotswolds are less than an hour from my front door.
What do you want to achieve with your nature writing?
When putting pen to paper, it’s important to have a fair idea of what you want the work to become.
As an industry, nature writing has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. It’s no longer only perceived as diarists observing the seasons, or poets drawing inspiration from wildlife and wilder places.
Nature writing has emerged as a tool for understanding and challenging society. It can be employed to talk about and campaign on different issues. From climate change to education, threatened wildlife to mental health, to the kind of world we want in the future.
So what is your work trying to achieve? Is it a poem seeking to inspire the reader about the marvels of nature? Or a piece of long-form journalism designed to question ideas? Does it rely on science? Or stem from the heart? Or both?
In nature writing, as in other literary forms, it’s certainly not a case of one size fits all. Several recent works branded as ‘new nature writing’ have been questioned as to whether or not they constitute nature writing at all. If a book talks about the natural world but only in relation to other social issues, should it fall under a different heading altogether? That’s not a question I’m going to try to answer here, but it’s a fascinating debate nevertheless.
While some may philosophise on how a piece of work merits the nature writing label, there’s no question that all nature writers have one thing in common – an adoration of the natural world.
And that admiration is what makes nature writing so special. Whether its birds or beasts, forests or flowers, it’s essential to demonstrate what you’re passionate about, and why.
For me, that is what makes people read articles and buy books. It’s the author’s appetite for a particular subject that brings a piece of work to life.
Accessible to all
Writers are influenced by the world around them. Whether that’s people or places, experiences or dreams, there’s no telling where inspiration will come from and the moment it will strike.
What that also means is that anybody can be a writer. Why? Because everybody has a story to tell.
I’m fascinated by the way in which children are inspired by nature. I regularly take my son into the countryside and soon as we’re home, the first thing he asks is where we’re going next.
Those feelings of wonder and delight are what fuels writers of the natural world. And it’s also what draws readers to their work.
As part of its centenary in 2019, the Forestry Commission is looking for two writers-in-residence to tell the stories of the nation’s forests and help people connect with the world around them. For more information visit www.forestryengland.uk/writers
• Sharmaine Lovegrove is the publisher of Dialogue Books, the UK’s only inclusive imprint, part of Little Brown Book Group and Hachette UK. She is inspired by innovative storytelling, and has worked in public relations, bookselling, events management and TV scouting. She was the literary editor of Elle , and set up her own bookshop and creative agency while living in Berlin. Home is London and her roots are Jamaican - Sharmaine is proud to be part of the African diaspora and books make her feel part of the world.
The beautiful natural features of the UK may not be the first things that spring to mind when planning a visit to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Most people planning their first visit think about the country's cities — London , Edinburgh , Glasgow, Liverpool — its industrial history or its stately homes, castles and cathedrals.
But the UK is a surprisingly green island with a deeply indented coastline of almost 20,000 miles (including the offshore islands ). Within its boundaries, the UK is a sort of world in miniature — with canyons, mountains, river valleys, deep, beautiful lakes and amazing beaches. These are among the best of its natural wonders.
Scafell Pike and The Screes
In July 2017, England's Lake District became a UNESCO World Heritage site. The somewhat controversial designation was in recognition of its traditional sheep farming, but that's not why we've chosen it for this list.
Instead, we're attracted to it's wild, lonely beauty and for the range and variety of its lakes and lakeland fells (a word the Vikings brought to Britain for mountains). From the genteel loveliness of Lake Windermere (the largest natural lake in England and a resort since the railroad arrived in 1847) to the stark drama of Scafell Pike, England's highest peak, and the Screes, seen here from Wastwater.
Wastwater, at 260 feet deep, is the deepest of the Lake District lakes. The Screes, running along the southeast shore, are made up of millions of broken stones left after the last Ice Age that rise from the bottom of the lake to a height of 2,000 feet.
How to See It
Once voted Britain's favorite view, the lake and Scafell Pike are owned by the National Trust. The Trust operates a campsite between Wastwater and Wasdale Head at one end of the lake, with wild camping, glamping and camping pods as well as facilities for camper vans.There is also limited parking around the lake. The Lake is off the A590 in Cumbria over rural and mountain roads.
If you are hooked on the latest BBC version of Poldark, then you have already visited Kynance Cove, at least in spirit. The cove, with its enormous rock towers, sea caves and low tide islands, is Nampara, Poldark's white sand beach.
As it appears in the TV drama, the beach looks extensive and permanent. But in fact, most of it is only visible and accessible at low tide. It's part of The Lizard, the most southerly spit of land on mainland Britain. It is worth planning your trip around the tides to see and swim in the stunning turquoise waters, wrapped in Cornish headlands that make up this beach — often listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The name, "Kynance" is derived from an old Cornish word, kewnans. It means ravine which should give you an idea of why this is considered an adventure beach. A stream, with steep sides cuts through the open heathland or downs opening out onto the beach and revealing more coves and caves that flood at high tide.
The area around the cove, including the cliffs at The Lizard, are noted for wildlife watching, wildflowers and even wild asparagus. If you're lucky and watching from the cliff tops, you could spot enormous basking sharks in the clear turquoise waters. The second biggest fish in the ocean, they frequent the area in late spring and early summer.
Getting to Kynance Cove is something of an adventure, though there is a viewpoint about 220 yards along a level track from the clifftop parking. To get to the beach itself, it's either a 2 and a half mile walk along the coastal path from Lizard Point or a steep hike down the cliffs with some steps at the bottom. Another route, described as rough but more or less level, is about a 20 minute walk from the car park. There are toilets in the car park and a beach cafe and accessible toilet in the cove. The beach has no lifeguard and there is a danger of being cut off by high tides at the northwest end. Still want to go? Set your GPS device for post code TR12 7PJ or hop on the number 37 bus from Helston to Lizard Village green, about a mile away.
Views From Mt. Snowdon
Mount Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and the highest British mountain south of Scotland. The Snowdon massif rises from the center of Snowdonia National Park and the views across North Wales from its slopes and summit are spectacular.
On a clear day, you can see Ireland, Scotland, and England as well as a Welsh landscape dotted with castles and lakes (called Llyn in Welsh). There are a eight official paths to the top. The Llanberis path, known as the "tourist path" because it is considered the easiest, is also the longest — at 9 miles.
But, in fact, there is a much easier way to enjoy the views. The Snowdon Mountain Railway takes visitors up from late March to early November and its route reveals ever changing and dramatic vistas.
If, on the other hand, you'd rather look up at the mountain than down from it, there are good views of Snowdon from the Janus Path , a 500 yard, accessible board walk around Llyn Cwellyn, a lake to the west of the summit near the Mt. Snowdon base camp. It's reached from the Snowdon Ranger Station parking.
The Snowdon Ranger Station, the start of the difficult Ranger Path and also access to the Janus Path boardwalk, is off the A4085, post code LL54 7YT for your GPS device. The Snowdon Mountain Railway (definitely the easy option of sightseers of all ages, including children) operates from Llanberis Station on the A4086, Victoria Terrace, Llanberis, Caernarfon LL55 4TT.
Swallow Falls in Snowdonia National Park
Swallow Falls, beside the A5 about two miles west of the Snowdonia National Park center in Betwys-y-Coed, is the tallest continuous waterfall in Wales. To get a sense of what that means, you have to walk along beside it.
The falls, on the River (or Afon in Welsh) Llugwy, are not one, tall cascade but a winding and ever widening series of cascades that thunder down, layer upon layer, into the river valley.
The easiest way to see Swallow Falls is from the sturdy staircase that runs alongside it. From the entrance, across from the Swallow Falls Hotel on the A5, it's a short, downhill walk to the riverside steps. Using them, visitors can climb to the top of the falls or descend to the bottom, enjoying changing views as they go. There is also a more challenging approach, on foot along the north bank of the river. And for real daredevils, there are companies that (unbelievably) run whitewater kayaking adventures down these falls.
Park in one of the paved lay-bys on the A5 or across from the entrance to the path at the Swallow Falls Hotel. There is a small fee for using the hotel car park. Entrance to the falls path and staircase cost £1.50. There's a small kiosk but it is open irregularly.When it is closed, visitors with the right change can pay at a sort of combination gate/turnstile. There is also an alternative and more adventurous path of about three miles through the woodlands and up the north bank of the river from the village of Betwys-y-coed. It is considered accessible but is very steep (a grade of 1 in 10) in places with tree roots and rocks to negotiate. Ask at the National Park information centerbeside the visitor parking in Betwys-y-coed for information about this walk.
The Seven Sisters Cliffs
It's easy to imagine that when Britain broke away from mainland Europe, the two snapped apart like a piece of broken china. If you travel across the English Channel, due south from the Seven Sisters cliffs (between Eastbourne and Seaford in East Sussex) to Fécamp or Étretat on France's Alabaster Coast, you'll see an almost matching run of gleaming, white chalk cliffs.
You have to sail out to sea for a good view of the French cliffs. But iconic views of The Seven Sisters, undulating beneath seven rolling hills of grass-covered chalk downs, can be enjoyed from several vantage points along England's deeply indented south east coast.
The Seven Sisters Country Park is included in the South Downs National Park. It's about a two hour drive from London. There is also good local bus transportation from the train stations in Brighton, Eastbourne and Seaford. This classic view, featured on postcards and calendars the world over, is from above a small group of Coast Guard cottages. There is also an easier vantage point from the National Trust site at Birling Gap .
Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags
TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald
Arthur's Seat, in Holyrood Park, is a volcanic hill and popular family climb in Edinburgh. From the top of Arthur's Seat there are views across the city. But Arthur's Seat itself, together with Salisbury Crags beneath it, form a beautiful and dramatic mountainscape right in the middle of Edinburgh. It's also very accessible.
Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crag are best seen from the base of Calton Hill on Regent Road/A1. It's a gentle half mile climb from the eastern end of Princes Street near the Scott Monument.
If you have a vivid imagination, Durdle Door, a natural stone arch near Lulworth Cove on the Dorset Coast, looks like a serpent, or a dinosaur rising from the sea. The idea seems less far fetched when you consider that this is part of England's Jurassic Coast , a UNESCO World Heritage site where tectonic forces have pushed some of the oldest rocks on earth to the surface.
Some of England's first dinosaur fossils were found here and fossil finds from as long ago as the Triassic Era (250 to 200 million years ago) can still be seen in the rock face or picked up on the beach. At Lulworth, most finds are from the Jurassic Era, 200 to 140 million years ago. Lucky fossil hunters have found ammonites, belemnites and ichthyosaur vertebrae.
You don't have to be into very ancient bones to enjoy the way the sun and sea create a changing play of colors on Durdle Door. It's beside a small shingle beach. But a short walk over the headlands (or from the car park above) will take you to the gentle waters of horseshoe-shaped Lulworth Bay and the soft, white pebble beach at Lulworth Cove — all the makings for a fine day out.
Durdle Door is just west of West Lulworth on the B3070. Access by path and steps is through the Durdle Door Holiday Park , or by the Southwest Coast path and steps over the hill from the Lulworth Cove car park (about a mile and a half walk). If you choose to come by train, you can catch the Monday through Saturday bus service (104) from Wool Station on the London Waterloo to Weymouth line to the holiday park entrance. (Check National Rail Enquiries for schedules). There are alsoboat trips to Durdle Door from Weymouth Harbour and Lulworth Cove.
The Needles are three, sharp, impressive and gleaming white chalk sea stacks that rise out of the sea and march toward a colourful, striped lighthouse off the west end of the Isle of Wight. They are gradually eroding into the sea. In fact, there used to be four and the one that disappeared was the needle-shaped stack that gave the group its name.
For such a fragile, off-shore formation, it's actually quite easy to get to see the Needles. Here's how:
- From the Needles Old Battery and New Battery, a National Trust site that was a Victorian defense installation and secret rocket launch site, you can look down on the Needles from the western extremity of the Isle of Wight. There is no vehicle access but it is a three quarters of a mile walk — over a well paved path, from the parking at Alum Bay (free for National Trust members).
- From March to October, the Needles Breezer bus runs regular services to Alum Bay from Yarmouth, then it's that 20 minute walk to the Batteries.
- Take the Needles Chairlift from the Needles Landmark Attraction (Marconi sent the first wireless messages from here) down to Alum Bay Beach. There are views on the way down and also from the beach.
- Needles Pleasure Cruises operate short boat trips from the jetty at Alum Bay Beach for a close-up look at the Needles and the Needles Lighthouse.
The Severn Bore
As the Severn Estuary travels from the Bristol Channel to Gloucester, the River Severn, trapped between South Wales, Somerset and Gloucestershire becomes rapidly more narrow and more shallow. At least 12 times a year, (during the spring and autumn equinox) this geographical formation, coupled with exceptionally high lunar tides, produces a wave of water at least four feet high - but sometimes as much as 10 feet. Called the Severn Bore, It races up river, against the current, at speeds of between five and eight miles per hour and surfers travel from all over the world to catch it.
The Severn Bore is visible from a variety of viewpoints in Wales and Gloucestershire. The simply named Severn Bore website , put together by local expert and enthusiast Russell Higgins, provides comprehensive information on when the bore will occur and where it is best seen. There is a lot of useful information, such as which areas have lots of ambient light for best night viewing without a full moon and where parking areas might be flooded at high tide.
The South Gower Coast
The Gower is a South Wales peninsula west of Swansea that has exceptionally beautiful beaches and cliff formations. Rhossili Beach, pictured here, is a three-mile scallop of sand backed by sandy, beach grass covered bluffs high enough for paragliders to launch from. At low tide, shipwrecks emerge from the sand and Worm's Head, a tidal island that extends off the Western end of the beach becomes walkable - for the adventurous - at low tide. It takes its name from the Viking word for dragon - wurm - because from the shore, that's what its 200-foot-high cliffs resemble.
The South Gower Coast is owned by the National Trust which maintains some parking, a shop and visitor center near Rhossili Beach. National Trust parking, (£5 for all day or free for members) includes toilets and a shop. A visitors center on the first floor has information and exhibitions by local artists. There are several cafes and a pub (with arguably one of the best coastal views in Wales) in the Worm's Head Hotel, beside the National Trust parking area.
The best view of Rhossili Bay and Worm's Head is from the top of Rhossili Down, the highest point on the Gower, reached from Swansea on the B4247.
In 2011, in a survey run by a Scottish conservation trust and a walking organization, visitors voted Glencoe Scotland's most romantic glen. The glen's approximate length of 12 miles is lined with eight Munros — those are mountains of more than 3,000 feet. One of Scotland's most ancient landscapes, it is actually the remnant of a volcanic caldera formed 450 million years ago. It's also the location of a tragic 17th century clan massacre.
Glencoe can be viewed, climbed or hiked from several different viewpoints. This one, of the Three Sisters, is seen from the Three Sisters Point of View car park on the A82 in Ballaculish, about four miles west of the Glencoe Visitor Center. There are also several low level, circular walks and a wildlife viewing platform at the visitor center itself.
Scott's View and the Eildon Hills
The Eildon Hills, three ancient volcanic plugs, preside over the relatively flat River Tweed Valley. Across the valley, between Melrose and Dryburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders, the B6356 rises steeply offering an uninterrupted view of these unusual hills and the patchwork of fields that surrounds them.
The view was a favorite of Sir Walter Scott, creator of Ivanhoe, who lived in Melrose and often stopped on at the viewpoint to enjoy it. Legend has it that on the way to Scott's burial at Dryburgh Abbey, his horse (who was pulling the wagon carrying his coffin) stopped, out of habit, in the usual place - possibly to give Scott one last glimpse of his beloved Eildon Hills.
Scott's View is indicated by a sign and a stone-walled parking area beside the road B6356. It's at the highest point of the road, about six miles north of Dryburgh Abbey.
Loch Lomond at Tarbet Bay
It's hard to find a view of Loch Lomond that isn't totally lovely. At more than 27 square miles, it is Britain's largest lake (by surface area) with a great variety of bankside views, overlooked by mountains covered in woodlands and heather. The most memorable way to enjoy a view of Loch Lomond is when its banks and the lower slopes of Ben Lomond are clothed in their autumn colors.
From the public parking at Tarbet Pier, at the intersection of the A82 and the A83, walk north along the loch-side path. For at least a mile along this path, the views of the loch's Tarbet Bay, with tourist boats plying the waters beneath the Ben Lomond massif, are very camera-worthy.
Stanage Edge, in the Peak District National Park on the eastern edge of Derbyshire, is the longest gritstone edge in the UK. In plain English, for non-rock climbers, it is a 3.5-mile long, continuous run of fine-grained stone cliffs and bluffs overlooking the Hope Valley. The exposed rock faces — popular with climbers — are between 50 and 65 feet high. The whole is a lot more impressive than that might suggest because the edge runs at the top of a hill, between 1,300 and 1,500 feet above the valley floor.
You'll probably need a SatNav or GPS device because, although it is not difficult to get to, Stanage Edge is off several paved but unnumbered or signposed park roads. It's about six miles southeast of the Yorkshire Bridge Inn in Bamford. Go south from the inn on the A6013 and then turn left onto New Road (it's the first left) . After about two miles, keep left at the T-junction with Long Causeway. At the Long Causeway carpark, turn right onto the unmarked road. After about a half a mile, you will see the beginning of Stanage Edge, uphill, on your left.
There are several parking areas but for the most choice, stay on this unnamed road, bearing left at the next T-junction, until you reach Hook's Car Park (about a mile and a half from the Long Causeway carpark at the junction with The Dale). From this point your can either:
- enjoy a long view of the edge, above you
- take the stone-paved path up across the moor to the path along the bottom of Stanage Edge
- or cross through the low rocks to walk along the top of the edge and pose moodily like someone in a whisky ad.
Malham Cove and the Limestone Pavements
If you've seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, then you've already seen Malham Cove and the Limestone Pavements. The cove is a huge, limestone crag, shaped like an amphitheater, 230 feet high and 985 feet wide. It's just a few hundred yards outside the village of Malham on the Pennine Way . Steps take you to the top where you can carefully walk on the limestone pavement. This is a rare and legally protected habitat formed when rainwater dissolves limestone, exposing its structure of regular, square blocks. There are several limestone pavements in the Pennine Hills that run through the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales National Parks. This is one of the best. The views from the bottom and the top are terrific.
How to See It
Malham Cove is three quarters of a mile south of the village of Malham, on Cove Road, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. After about a half mile, look for a public footpath marker and a small National Trust sign on the right. The rest of the way is over a gently climbing but wide, flat path of the Pennine Way.
The Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway, near Bushmills on the North coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland, isn't man made. It's not even upgraded or maintained by rock gardeners who come out when everyone is gone to tidy things up. The causeway, looking like a roadway into North Atlantic, is made of about 40,000 interlocking, hexagonal basalt columns, some more than 12 meters high. They are the remnants of an ancient volcanic lava glow, frozen in time. The tops of the columns form stepping stones, mostly hexagonal (six-sided) but also with four, five, seven and eight sides, leading from the foot of a cliff into the sea.
The Giant's Causeway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987. Today it is owned and managed by the National Trust.
If you plan to visit, do keep in mind that reasonable mobility and fitness is required to walk on the causeway. There is, however, a new and accessible National Trust visitors' center. In 2013 it was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize in architecture. The visitor center is one kilometer from the Causeway, It's not visible from the site so its wild aspect, like a harsh backdrop for some moody Game of Thrones scenes, is maintained. Interestingly, a lot of the area around the Giant's Causeway - caves, beaches, forests - was used in the television saga but the causeway itself has never made the cut.
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Stanage Edge. Robert Kearton / Getty Images. Stanage Edge, in the Peak District National Park on the eastern edge of Derbyshire, is the longest gritstone edge in the UK. In plain English, for non-rock climbers, it is a 3.5-mile long, continuous run of fine-grained stone cliffs and bluffs overlooking the Hope Valley.