Skip to content

Wild words: five books for winter chosen by nature writers

Looking for a beautiful and immersive book to read this winter? Check out these recommendations from five acclaimed outdoor writers, and enjoy getting lost in their wild worlds.

The long nights and cold days of winter makes it the perfect time to find the perfect book to read. We’ve lined up five books to read this winter, handpicked by five acclaimed nature and wildlife writers.

1) A Spell in the Wild: A Year (and Six Centuries) of Magic, by Alice TarbuckA pink book cover depicting a plant stem and green leaves

Recommended by Jini Reddy

‘A Spell in the Wild is a bewitching, accessible and exceptionally well-researched chronicle of a year in the life of a witch. What I truly love about it is the way Alice makes very clear the connection between witchcraft and nature (both urban and rural) and the seasons. Intriguing spells feature in the book too, and who doesn’t long for a bit of magic in their lives?’

Journalist and travel writer Jini Reddy is the author of Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape, shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize 2020.

2) The Lost Spells, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

A book cover depicting an owl in flight

Recommended by Patrick Barkham

‘The Lost Words was not simply a surprise bestseller when it was published three years ago. An oversized book of “spells” by Robert Macfarlane, with illustrations by Jackie Morris, it celebrated everyday nature – blackberries, acorns, kingfishers – that had been excised from a children’s dictionary. It became a cultural phenomenon. Readers raised money to place the book in three-quarters of British primary schools and every hospice in the land. People turned the poems and illustrations into songs, murals, performance art, even puzzles.

‘The Lost Spells is its little sister, a pocket-sized volume of new spells, which have been written to be read aloud. This book just feels magical in the hand, as if it is whispering to you to take it outside, sit under a tree, and read about a barn owl, fox or silver birch. I think these new spells are more powerful than ever, and Morris’s illustrations are even richer than before, revealing themselves like stories over the pages, rich in gifts and surprises.’

Nature writer Patrick Barkham’s latest book Wild Green Wonders is a chronicle of writings drawn from his 20 years as Guardian writer.

3) Under the Stars: A Journey into Light, by Matt Gaw

A book cover showing an illustrated nocturnal landscape and lone walker under a full moon

Recommended by Kate Blincoe

‘As winter takes its grip, the dark can feel oppressive and restrictive. If it’s the same for you, I urge you to read Under the Stars – it will change the next few months into a place of adventure and opportunity right on your own doorstep. This book is an exploration of the night sky that takes Matt Gaw from the moors of Dartmoor to the remote island of Coll. He seeks real darkness, and finds mesmerising natural light; the moon, the constellations, meteors, the night-sun…  And in the thickest, darkest night, he encounters his own fears too. His voice brings humour, emotion and a raw beauty with his rollicking yet elegant, and never show-offy, prose. This is nature writing at its absolute best.

‘The darkness will soften through the pages you read, and become not only exciting, peaceful and beautiful, but also vulnerable. For true darkness is an endangered species, and Gaw details the far-reaching problems caused by light pollution in this entertaining and important read.’

Kate Blincoe is a writer for The Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ and Resurgence & Ecologist, and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting.

4) Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species, by Esther Woolfson

A book cover showing a robin on a perch with a dark backdrop

Recommended by Melissa Harrison

‘I’ve been a fan of Esther Woolfson’s deeply humane, wide-ranging books since Corvus back in 2008, her moving account of her relationship with a rook named “chicken”, and being a townie at the time (I’ve since moved from London to Suffolk) I loved Field Notes from a Hidden City, too. I’m looking forward to giving Between Light and Storm my full attention. She’s not a writer to skim, but to really engage with, intellectually and emotionally, and her latest looks to be a deeply researched but brilliantly illuminating exploration of our complex and troubled relationship with other species, from field sports to taxidermy, vivisection to farming, the fur trade to prehistoric cave art.’

Melissa Harrison is a novelist, nature writer and podcaster. Her most recent work is a duo of nature adventure books called By Ash, Oak & Thorn and By Rowan and Yew.

5) The Oak Papers, by James Canton

book cover showing a the rings of a tree trunk and an oak leaf and acorn

Recommended by Stephen Rutt:

‘James Canton’s The Oak Papers is my reading pick for a locked-down winter. Telling the story of a handful of individual oak trees in the perennially underrated Essex countryside, Canton shows us that there can be a benefit to staying still and re-examining the legacy of what might be a familiar presence in the English landscape. It might inspire you to do something similar.’

Stephen Rutt is an amateur naturalist and author. His most recent book is The Eternal Season: Ghosts of Summers Past, Present and Future. It explores the changing nature of the British summer.

A version of this article was originally published in CPRE’s award-winning magazine, Countryside Voices. Countryside Voices is one of many benefits of being a CPRE member — including discounts on attraction visits and countryside kit from major high street stores. Join us now.

a woman reading a book in front of a log fire holding a hot drink
Winter reads can be the best way to keep in touch with the countryside from home Shutterstock

This is a title you can edit

Dive deeper into the topics we care about with our handy explainer guides.