Chucky, Hirple, Clart

David Craig

  • Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
    Hamish Hamilton, 387 pp, £20.00, March 2015, ISBN 978 0 241 14653 8

This book is almost parodically characteristic of Robert Macfarlane’s work. He is a scholar of place – of terrain, terroir, the land – and at times references, sources and citations have bulked uncomfortably large in his writing. Certainly he frequents the countryside at close quarters and often strenuously. He sleeps out, on mountains and moors. He walks arduously, along coasts and by holloways. He has spent months in our wild places from Sutherland and the Outer Hebrides to the extremities of Wales. He visits them, rather than living in them. He goes out of a strong feeling for nature, as a professional observer and writer – one who knows, or hopes, that he is going to have experiences that will be fruitful for his work. In this his mindset differs from that of most of the country writers who have stayed with me indelibly: William Cobbett of Rural Rides, a farmer’s son and himself a farmer from time to time; John Muir of My First Summer in the Sierra, a farmer’s son and farmer; and Lewis Grassic Gibbon of A Scots Quair, a farmer’s son from the Mearns in north-east Scotland. All three produced work that strikes me as special – as important, if you like – because they saw the countryside and its people as part of human society, rather than as stimuli for personal fascination. And they all came up with sequences or moments that are touchstones for their kind: Cobbett meeting a woman who has never been outside her parish, Muir rejoicing in the dewdrops on flowers one July morning, Gibbon describing a farm woman lost in thought in the gloaming after returning to her birthplace.

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