Wild words to sustain us this winter
When you’re longing to get back into the countryside and life gets in the way, the next best thing is a great nature book. Here, five acclaimed outdoor writers share the books they’re immersing themselves in for a taste of the wild this season.
A Spell in the Wild: A Year (and Six Centuries) of Magic, by Alice Tarbuck
(John Murray, £16.99)
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 (Bloomsbury Wildlife, £16.99), shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize 2020.
The Lost Spells, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
(Hamish Hamilton, £14.99)
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.’
‘J-J-J-J-Jackdaw is a tongue-twisting rap full of fun and energy. Goldfinch celebrates a resurgent species but is full of melancholy, a perfect fit for our times, with its evocation of “a worrying absence of gilt”. My favourite is the spell for the Swift, that exhilarating summer migrant. It’s hard to write afresh about something so well celebrated by Ted Hughes, but Macfarlane’s spell captures our joy and fears over this wonderful bird. If we are to protect, restore and re-enchant our wild world, the Lost Spells will help inspire us to do it.’
Guardian journalist and nature writer Patrick Barkham’s latest book Wild Child (Granta, £16.99) is on the importance of nature for children.
Under the Stars: A Journey into Light, by Matt Gaw
(Elliott & Thompson, £12.99)
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 (Green Books, £7).
Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species, by Esther Woolfson
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 new book The Stubborn Light of Things (Faber, £14.99), a collection of her nature writings for The Times, is out now.
The Oak Papers, by James Canton
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 author of The Seafarers, a Roger Deakin Award winner, and Wintering: A Season with Geese (Elliott & Thompson, £9.99).
A version of this article was originally published in CPRE’s award-winning magazine, Countryside Voices. You’ll have Countryside Voices sent to your door three times a year, as well as access to other benefits including discounts on attraction visits and countryside kit from major high street stores when you join as a CPRE member. Join us now.