Underland – Robert Macfarlane

Underland - Robert Macfarlane
Underland – Robert Macfarlane

Underground places and spaces, people and history.

As I said in my weeknotes, I’d found I was reluctant to read Robert Macfarlane’s latest, taking it with me on holiday more out of a sense of “I ought to” rather than “I want to”. I’m not sure what was putting me off – perhaps the title and the theme, or the size, but as ever with Robert Macfarlane’s writing it drew me in from page 1.

Publisher page: Underland – Robert Macfarlane

Landmarks – Robert Macfarlane

Landmarks - Robert MacfarlaneSuperb writing on language, landscape and living on the land.

Lots of new words to use (well, to try and remember); lots of new books to read…

Looking forward to fuddling next time at Forty Acres, and to the accuracy of describing my Dolpo Expedition river crossing photos as “Crunching across the frozen mud and skim-ice to wade through the waters of the upper Barbung Khola”.

“Other places” isn’t really the right category/genre for this but it’s the closest I’ve got (other than “Too tricky to categorise” – so I’m going to tick that too….)

Publisher page: Landmarks – Robert Macfarlane

The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot – Robert Macfarlane

At last, a proper page turner after two less engrossing reads…. I’ve developed a real love of nature/travel writing, and Robert Macfarlane’s meditations on ancient pathways on land and sea bring together landscape and wildlife, modern politics and ghostly sacred sites, ancient hunter gathers of Formby Point and present day gannet hunters of Ness, and much more through the prism of Edward Thomas‘s poems.

Named “best book of the year” by many an author in 2012/2013, it more than lived up to the hype.

Time to look out some of the writer-walkers who’ve inspired him, in particular Nan Shepherd and her book The Living Mountain, Barry Cunliffe‘s Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and its People, 8000BC-AD1500 and Barry Lopez‘s Home Ground: Language to an American Landscape….

… and to find out how feasible it might be to pay my own pilgrimage to Minya Konka (Mount Gongga; simplified Chinese: 贡嘎山).

Publisher page: The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot – Robert Macfarlane

The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane

A lovely meditation on what wilderness really is, and where you’ll find it.

Read during my fortnight in Burma, I enjoyed The Wild Places more than Mountains of the Mind, and heard echoes of Kathleen Jamie‘s writings. I’m also inspired to read Roger Deakin‘s books – starting with Waterlog borrowed from bruv.

Adam Nicolson’s review in The Independent tells you all you need to know: The wilderness within, 31 August 2007.

Publisher page: The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane

Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination – Robert Macfarlane

Phil bought this for me from Daunts as holiday reading for the Croatia-Berlin-Paris mini tour, in anticipation of a trek in Nepal later this year.

Not surprisingly the chapter on Everest particularly appealed. As it turned out, the account of Mallory’s expeditions to Everest resonated strongly as last year’s Himalayan Journey meant that I had followed in some of his footsteps through Tibet – and this section about mountain light rang particularly true:

There is the Midas light,the rich yellow light which spills lengthways across the mountains, turning everything it touches to gold. And there is the light which falls at the end of a mountain day, and unifies the landscape with a single texture. This light possesses a gentle clarity, and brings with it implications of tranquility, integrity, immanence. page 214

Covering a range of histories – geology, alpine travel, travel writing, tourism, mountaineering, Everest – plus poetry, psychology and philosophy, it is a fascinating read, although in parts the “testing out” as articles was a little too obvious. But the main theme of the book is why we are drawn to the mountains, and it is a book to read if this snippet rings true for you….

Returning to earth after being in the mountains – stepping back out of the wardrobe – can be a disorienting experience. Like Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy returning from Narnia, you expect everything to have changed. You half-expect the first people you see to grip you by the elbow and ask you if you are all right, to say You’ve been away for years. But usually no one notices that you’ve been gone at all. And the experiences you have had are largely incommunicable to those who were not there. I have often felt as through I were a stranger re-entering my country after years abroad, not yet adjusted to my return, and bearing experiences beyond speech. page 204

Amazon.co.uk link: Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination – Robert Macfarlane

Late afternoon light brings out the colours of the landscape surrounding our campsite