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51
4.0 out of 5 stars
Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2013
This reminds me of observational books about nature written by Denys Watkins-Pitchford [aka 'BB'] in the 1960s. Very evocative, poetic writing about wildlife and the environment that takes you to another place. Personally, though, I'd have preferred more information about exactly what the author did during his five years in the wilds and the challenges of day-to-day life in such extraordinary circumstances. He gives very little away about himself or his background - other than the two sentences on the very first page. [A 3-minute video on YouTube reveals more]. But perhaps I'm missing the point ...
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Neil Ansell had the opportunity to rent a dilapidated cottage deep in the hills of Mid-Wales, in countryside so remote that you could walk twenty miles in one direction without encountering another dwelling. What started as short-term let, turned out to be a five-year period of solitary living, far removed from the services we expect to find today - hot water from a tap, central heating and plumbing. The rent of £100 a year reflected the lack of services but failed to take account of the incredible beauty of the location and the land available to the tenant.

Neil has a great affinity with nature and things which would phase other people were causes of delight. I am not sure how I would feel about sharing my home with twenty of thirty bats for example. Even Neil however baulked at the spring-invasions of mice - fortunately the pretty field mouse variety rather than the disease carrying house mouse. The mice reduced Neil to hanging food in carrier bags from ham hooks embedded in the ceiling. The only way Neil could reduce the population of mice was to trap them and carry them across a river where he released them. No doubt killing them would have had no effect other than to make space for others.

Neil found that his life settled down into natural rhythms. He even developed his own rituals, such as seeing in the New Year from the summit of his hill or walking overnight into the hills at the Summer Solstice so he could watch the dawn from a mountain top. Five years of solitude was broken up by visits from friends, but Neil became accustomed to his way of life and found that he welcomed the return to quietness when they departed.

While it is interesting to read how Neil looked after himself, the major part of the book is a sort of extended nature diary - fascinating for anyone who loves the ebb and flow of the seasons and the changing wildlife that accompanies them. The hills of Wales are remarkable rich in wild-life of every description and Neil went out of his way to cultivate a relationship with it - maintaining a large number of nest boxes for example, which he patrolled regularly to check on the progress of his many bird families.

Neil already had an interest in "food for free" having lived in Sweden where "foraging in the wood in autumn is practically a national pastime". He gathered chanterelles, parasols and ceps, preserving them in olive oil with dill and coriander seeds. He made thirty jars of jam each year from berries found in the woods, and he gathered wild strawberries.

The solitary life was a phase which could not last forever. Neil is now a successful BBC journalist and lives with his family in the city of Brighton. He still returns to his Welsh cottage but things are not quite the same - in his epilogue he gives the impression of returning to the location of an earlier part of his life, now long gone.

Neil has recorded a video for Penguin Books with some footage of the cottage which lets us get a good idea of where he spent his five years with nature and self-sufficiency.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2013
This is a great book describing Neil Ansell's life in the Welsh Hills. It is inspiring how, by becoming immersed in the local wildlife, particularly the birds, he seems so content being in his own company (although it is reassuring that he does have friends visiting and is in no way a social outcast). Whilst it certainly made me want to go and live in a similar way, it would have been nice to learn more about his wider experiences rather than having an overwhelming focus on birdlife. Although, perhaps this was such an important part of his life that it warranted the attention and from now on I will be watching the birds in my garden more carefully!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2013
A friend gave me this book, because she loved it and thought I might do so too. She was right. I usually go for plot-driven novels and fly through them, but this book is different, I just had to read it slowly, savouring every paragraph, not wanting it to end.
As I live in Wales myself, I was initially frustrated by the fact that he never tells you where he is/was exactly, even though I knew he wanted to keep it private and secret. I would also have loved some drawings or photos of the wildlife, landscapes or bits of the house, but then again, his words create the pictures, so I'm not complaining.
I'm not a bird-watcher as such but did not find his accounts of encounters with various birds boring at all. In fact, I think he may have made a fledgling bird-watcher of me: I seem to be scanning the sky for hawks rather often now.
A magical, beautifully written book that slows you down and opens your eyes and mind.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2012
Close the curtains, put another log on the fire, pour yourself a glass of red and sit back and enjoy. They say 'lose yourself in a book' and this is exactly what you can do with 'Deep Country'. The detailed descriptions of the weather, countryside and wildlife make you feel as though you are there. Highly recommended!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2014
A great read, I was sad when it ended! It's heavy on the ornithology and if you understand early on that this is a book about nature and less about the trials of living alone in the wilds of Wales then you'll love it. That said, the passages when the author talks about his daily routine become more anticipated and enjoyed. This is a book about losing yourself in the natural environment and less about the concept of 'finding oneself' as is the modern renaissance. the last 30 pages I read in one short sitting and was tempted to start reading it again cover to cover. Instead I bought the authors other book 'Deer Island' which I await eagerly!
Buy it, read it and get somebody else to read it!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2012
Deep Country is the story of how Neil Ansell undertook a personal adventure to live alone in a remote cottage in the Welsh hills for five years. It is a fascinating tale of how he coped without gas, electricity or plumbing and how he became accustomed to the seasons and how his awareness became heightened to the changes around him. His observations of wildlife; the rituals of the woodland and the rhythms of the fields are wonderful descriptions of how beautiful the British countryside really is! Neil becomes engrossed by the daily activities of the birds he sees, such as the curlews, red kites, sparrowhawks and ravens; he becomes attached to the wanderings of the animals that live nearby, like the badgers and the hares, and even to the colony of bats in his roof space!
This magical and evocative book is a remarkable journey of a man who gradually becomes more and more at home with the woodland creatures and hardships of living alone with nature. Definitely essential reading!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2014
This book is one of my 'keep for all time' books, it's so beautifully written and calming. I'm never happier than when I'm out and about walking and at one with nature so for me this book was an extension of that. I loved the 'wildness' of the book, being in a cottage miles from anywhere observing nature and living freely. I find it difficult to describe how this book got into my very soul and through this book I was able to have a taster of what it would be like to live in the heart of the countryside with only the wild life for company. A truly remarkable book and one I am glad I found.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2013
A really enjoyable read which feeds your dream of getting away from the hell of other people. A retreat from the cares of everyday life which is a real tonic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2014
This book is one of the most beautiful I have ever read. The author simply describes his life in the hills. If you like books with lots of drama, plots or detailed self-analysis, then this is not for you. Nor is it a guide to self-sufficiency, as some people seem to have expected. But if you enjoy a beautifully written, detailed and accurate observation of wildlife and countryside in an isolated rural area, then I think you will enjoy this.

Some reviews have complained that there are 'too many birds' in the book - what else do they expect in the middle of the Welsh hills - elephants? Rhinoceros?

The final few pages of the book did become a little repetitive and I felt could have benefited from sharper editing, but it seemed unfair to give this book anything less than 5 stars when it is the book I most enjoyed reading all year.
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