The Wild Places (Penguin Original)

Table of Contents
Robert Macfarlane’s
Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination
(2003), won the
First Book Award, a Somerset Maugham Award, and the
Sunday Times
Young Writer of the Year Award, and was filmed by the BBC. Robert Macfarlane is a Fellow of Emmanuel College Cambridge.
Praise for
The Wild Places
“A wonderful read, this, one man’s search for wildness. His prose moves like the wild wind to ‘join cross space’ and time our ‘mostly broken pieces.’ Fresh and exhilarating.” —Bernd Heinrich
“Macfarlane is a descriptive writer of breathtaking power. In a few words, he conjures up not only the shapes and dynamics of the land, but the experience of being absorbed by it. The afterimages of
The Wild Places
left me with the strange impression of having walked alongside him.” —
The Sunday Times
“A beautifully written and deeply thoughtful book. . . . Macfarlane’s prose is as robust as the landscape he describes. He switches to considerable effect between loose-limbed, meandering sentences and plain staccato, choosing his words with the precision of a poet. . . . Anyone who loves language will take pleasure in this book.” —
The Telegraph

The Wild Places
is a book that inhales the zeitgeist, as well as the fresh air of open country. . . . [Macfarlane’s] vocabulary is deep and diverse, and his mood is generally close to rapture. . . . He also encourages his readers to feel that while many of our fundamental connections have been broken or lost, many remain—if only we have the sense and the tuned senses to appreciate them.”

The Guardian
“A marvelously evocative portrait of place . . . What Macfarlane did for the world’s high places in his award-winning debut
Mountains of the Mind
, he has now done for the wilderness of Britain and Ireland.”

The Sunday Telegraph
“A beautiful and inspiring book . . . When Macfarlane moves into the realities of the landscape, he makes them sing. . . . In the course of his travels, he comes to realize that wildness is not just about remote places. A weed forcing its way through a concrete pavement is as much a sign of wilderness as a storm at sea.”
—The Independent
“What makes this book so remarkable is not so much the message as the extraordinary beauty and precision of the author’s prose. Time and time again he takes the reader’s breath away with the exactitude of a phrase or image.”
—Financial Times
“These fifteen perfect essays relating travels off the well-trodden paths sparkle like early morning. Their combination of physical and spiritual adventure creates a kind of peregrinating enchantment. . . . Macfarlane has the ability to see everything, however famously visible, for the first time. . . .
The Wild Places
contains writing of an exceptional beauty, and it is a strong statement about our present divorce from the natural world.” —
The Literary Review
“Macfarlane writes with passion but also an ache for a world most people don’t see, while he balances the personal with the scientific. . . . A magical, masterly call to the wild that asks us to think about what we have in these isles—and what we have to lose.” —
“A beautifully modulated call from the wild that will ensorcell any urban prisoner wishing to break free.” —Will Self
“A lovely book by a sublimely civilized writer—honest nourishment for the mind and true enhancement for the spirit.” —Jan Morris
“A driven and necessary account of the wild places of these islands, near or remote, as they can be located and possessed within ourselves: in good heart, in hungry intelligence.” —Iain Sinclair
“Eloquent . . . Macfarlane’s striking prose not only evokes each locale’s physicality in sensuous, deliberate detail, it glows with a reverence for nature in general and takes the reader on both a geographical and a philosophical journey, as mind-expanding as any of his wild places.”
—Publishers Weekly
(starred review)
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in Great Britain by Granta Books 2007
Published in Penguin Books 2008
Copyright © Robert Macfarlane, 2007
All rights reserved
Lines from
Four Quartets
by T. S. Eliot, used by kind permission of Faber and Faber
Map copyright © Helen Macdonald
Photographs copyright © John Beatty, Rosamund Macfarlane and John Macfarlane, see page 330
eISBN : 978-0-143-11393-5
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For my parents,
and in memory of Roger Deakin (1943-2006)
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
The wind was rising, so I went to the wood. It lies south of the city, a mile from my home: a narrow, nameless fragment of beechwood, topping a shallow hill. I walked there, following streets to the city’s fringe, and then field-edge paths through hedgerows of hawthorn and hazel.
Rooks haggled in the air above the trees. The sky was a bright cold blue, fading to milk at its edges. From a quarter of a mile away, I could hear the noise of the wood in the wind; a soft marine roar. It was the immense compound noise of friction - of leaf fretting on leaf, and branch rubbing on branch.
I entered the wood by its southern corner. Debris was beginning to drop from the moving canopy: twigs and beech nuts, pattering down on to the coppery layer of leaves. Sunlight fell in bright sprees on the floor. I walked up through the wood, and midway along its northern edge I came to my tree - a tall grey-barked beech, whose branches flare out in such a way that it is easy to climb.
I had climbed the tree many times before, and its marks were all familiar to me. Around the base of its trunk, its bark has sagged and wrinkled, so that it resembles the skin on an elephant’s leg. At about ten feet, a branch crooks sharply back on itself; above that, the letter ‘H’, scored with a knife into the trunk years before, has ballooned with the growth of the tree; higher still is the healed stump of a missing bough.
Thirty feet up, near the summit of the beech, where the bark is smoother and silver, I reached what I had come to call the observatory: a forked lateral branch set just below a curve in the trunk. I had found that if I set my back against the trunk and put my feet on either tine of the fork, I could stay comfortable there. If I remained still for a few minutes, people out walking would sometimes pass underneath without noticing me. People don’t generally expect to see men in trees. If I remained still for longer, the birds would return. Birds don’t generally expect to see men in trees, either. Blackbirds fussing in the leaf litter; wrens which whirred from twig to twig so quickly they seem to teleport; once a grey partridge, venturing anxiously from cover.
I steadied myself in the observatory. My weight and movement had made the tree rock, and the wind exaggerated the rock, so that soon the summit of the beech was creaking back and forth, describing arcs of five or ten degrees. Not an observatory that day; more of a mast-top crow’s-nest in a sea swell.

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