Landmarks: the latest addition in our growing collection by Robert Macfarlane

Escaping to the country, Stephen Town gets lost in this latest addition to his Nightshelf collection.


Macfarlane, R., Landmarks, in the University Library at N 42 MACF

Sheep grazing in Offa's Dyke, and not looking
too impressed at being disturbed!
One of the pleasures of being in Britain in Spring is the opportunity to walk out amongst the sheep and lambs on some ancient trackway, with a clear sky and springy turf beneath your feet. This pleasure is not easy to capture in words, but the author of my next donation has written a series of books which not only do this, but in a way that is fully satisfying in a literary and intellectual sense.

Robert Macfarlane produces great writing: described by others as erudite, beautiful and exquisite. His works stir the imagination, and reveal a world that might inspire anyone to take to the old ways of this island and beyond. Unsurprisingly, some of our readers have already discovered this great writer, and his previous books have been recommended to the Library and purchased through our Morebooks scheme.

I am pleased that Robert Macfarlane was educated like me at Pembroke College, Cambridge, although he was born in the year I graduated. Now a Fellow of Emmanuel College, he is a senior lecturer in English, specialising in contemporary writing and what he calls cultural environmentalism. Although this would seem a narrow description of his own works, which combine the natural with the imprints of man, time and the motion of travel in a unique style.

The Old Drove Road over Hergest Ridge in the Welsh Borders

I first became a fan of Macfarlane's work when I read The Wild Places as a result of bookshop browsing, and I later picked up The Old Ways in an Edinburgh gallery shop. In The Old Ways, alongside describing his own journeys to illuminate the idea of walking as knowing, Macfarlane pays tribute to Edward Thomas, poet and author of The Icknield Way (one of the first in my own collection of books on the ancient ways of Britain) who was killed in the First World War.

My donation, Landmarks, is his glossary of nature, which tries to bring together the ‘word-hoard’ of our landscape through a collection of other great writing in the language of a sense of place. This is an attempt to gather examples of what he describes as ‘place-lexis’, exploring how we use and lose language relating to specific examples of landscape and nature. This kind of technical description of Macfarlane’s work is however completely inadequate to convey the pleasure of reading it, so I encourage you to do just that.

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