Two years ago, up a mountain in the Dolomites (I ascended by cable car !) I discussed favourite books with some new acquaintances over a cup of strong but great coffee. I was advised to read books by Robert Macfarlane as I was told that his writing about landscape is excellent. I wasn’t particularly interested in reading books about landscape but when I saw The Wild Places available at a charity shop for a ludicrously low price I decided to pick it up and see what I thought for myself. I am pleased to say that this author does, in fact, write excellently about landscape.
In this book the author seeks out untouched areas of wildness in the UK and Ireland. He looks at lots of different landscapes – mountains, river estuaries, by the sea, rivers, cliffs and marshes among others. He spends time alone in these places and tries to work out how wild they are and what it means to have these relatively untouched places in our country. His view of wildness changes as he observes the landscapes he visits and it becomes obvious that most of them have been formed or changed by humans over the centuries.
The writing about what you find in these places in beautiful and the author doesn’t spend all the time talking about what he does or experiences or trying to make his journeys into some sort of drama. He does talk about the history of these places and how they are portrayed in literature which I also found interesting but the book is not littered with quotations. There is also some discussion of other people and friends who are committed to preserving wild places, some of whom come with him on his trips. All of this adds to the narrative but the focus of the book is definitely in the descriptions.
This is a quiet but beautifully wrought book about some very special places.