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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, lyrical writing
I bought this book after catching the second half of an interview on Radio 4 with Robert Macfarlane. As part of it, he read aloud an exerpt - the first couple of pages, in which he climbs a favourite tree of his in local woodland - and I was immediately struck by his lovely turn of phrase, as well as being hooked by the subject matter (I have chlorophyll instead of...
Published on 6 Jun 2010 by Jonathan Barclay

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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Location, location, location
Readers will not fail to appreciate Robert Macfarlane's beautiful and evocative prose, or doubt his love of wild locations. However after his excellent `Mountains of the Mind' I found this latest book a huge disappointment. The former was more visionary and it prompted mental exploration, whereas for `The Wild Places' I was left as a bystander to physical exploration -...
Published on 31 Aug 2008 by D. Elliott


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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, lyrical writing, 6 Jun 2010
By 
Jonathan Barclay (Buckinghamshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Wild Places (Paperback)
I bought this book after catching the second half of an interview on Radio 4 with Robert Macfarlane. As part of it, he read aloud an exerpt - the first couple of pages, in which he climbs a favourite tree of his in local woodland - and I was immediately struck by his lovely turn of phrase, as well as being hooked by the subject matter (I have chlorophyll instead of blood!). The rest of the book is similarly evocative of what may sadly be a dwindling part of our heritage, and if it doesn't spur you to get OUT and look about you with newly clear eyes... then I'll feel that you have missed something profound, and may shed a (green) tear or two! For anyone who fell in love with Tolkein's landscapes, or Roger Deakin's Wild Wood.
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Location, location, location, 31 Aug 2008
By 
D. Elliott (Ulverston, Cumbria) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Wild Places (Paperback)
Readers will not fail to appreciate Robert Macfarlane's beautiful and evocative prose, or doubt his love of wild locations. However after his excellent `Mountains of the Mind' I found this latest book a huge disappointment. The former was more visionary and it prompted mental exploration, whereas for `The Wild Places' I was left as a bystander to physical exploration - and yet the first was `merely' short-listed for the Boardman-Tasker Award in 2003, and though not a mountaineering or climbing book `The Wild Places' won outright in 2007. So what do I know?

I understand it was after writing `Mountains of the Mind' that Robert Macfarlane met Roger Deakin, a philosophical environmentalist also producing a book - `Wildwood'. I believe Macfarlane was influenced greatly by Deakin, and much is made of their friendship with homage paid to Deakin after his untimely death. Brief reference is made to Macfarlane's own family, but it is piece-meal and insufficient to know him personally. This is unfortunate as expectations, perceptions and responses to the wild vary with the individual. I suspect not all readers will agree with Robert Macfarlane's definitions of wild places.

`The Wild Places' is presented as a series of landscape essays headed `Beechwood', `Island', Valley', `Moor', etc. in which Macfarlane describes locations, introduces characters met, refers to earlier commentators, explains historical background, and makes literary connections. I enjoyed much of this - especially for locations known to me - but I do not comprehend his adverse reaction to a night on Ben Hope, a mountain I climbed recently [May 2008]. That apart, a pattern emerges throughout the essays and it is somewhat surprising how very different locations are dealt with in similar manner. There is considerable repetition, and I am unsure about coupling of wild places with numerous episodes of skinny-dipping in cold water, kipping out in storms, shinning up trees, or hoarding of momentos.

What I do acknowledge positively is Macfarlane's emphasis on wild places as quite different from wilderness. Indeed he provides evidence of how wild places do not have to be in the wilderness but can be found at locations with easy access from almost anywhere. Though readers are largely treated as observers to Macfarlane's actions, they should be inspired to re-assess locations they already know, and to search out something further.
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203 of 220 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as Wild as Wildwood, 23 Nov 2007
By 
Catherine Murphy "drcath" (Norway) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
Is it a coincidence that Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane were both writing a book with "wild" in the title at roughly the same time? Deakin, a friend of Macfarlane's, died shortly after completing "Wildwood", Macfarlane was completing his manuscript when Deakin died.

"Wild" is big book business at the moment and why not? 21st century European life seems to guarantee a divorce between self and environment and people turn to books, if not their walking boots, to fill the gap. Macfarlane visits the wild places of the British Isles and tries to capture their essence in prose for those of us who don't want to stir from our sofas (that includes me by the way). It is an admirable endeavour and an enjoyable read, but I reserve the fourth star for the following reasons:

It is repetitive - there are 3 things that Macfarlane does on every trip: bathe somewhere cold, pick up a stone and sleep in the open. There are only so many ways to describe this routine, without reader fatigue setting in.

There is a distance between the writer and the rest of us he does not care to bridge. Who is he? Why is he qualified to write about the wild? What relevance does it have to the rest of his life? Without answers to these questions, I can't connect with the writing and it becomes chilly and perhaps a touch preachy.

The anecdotes that provide the contrast with the description of place tend to be perfunctory and, again, repetitive. The Highland Clearances and the Potato Famine both figure. There seem to be several poets who keep mental illness at bay/achieve inspiration by walking in the countryside. There are probably general lessons about the historical reasons for some areas being people-free and our relationship with nature, but Macfarlane is coy about drawing them out.

In summary: worth reading, but Deakin is better.
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130 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Born to be wild, 16 Sep 2007
By 
russell clarke "stipesdoppleganger" (halifax, west yorks) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
There appears to be a burgeoning body of writers/broadcasters who sense we are on the cusp of losing something we have always had , and maybe taken for granted . TV like "Mountain" and "Coast" and books from the likes of Mark Cocker and Alice Oswald urge us to re-connect with our landscape and nature itself as not only are we detached from what is around us but there may soon come a time when these opportunities become increasingly difficult to seek out.
The Wild Places is an attempt to put us back in touch with this elemental communication with our landscape but is also an attempt to physically seek out these places and see if they actually do still exist. If that sounds a bit "Star Trek" it's not meant to, but there is a tangible sense of discovering and exploring to this book so maybe its more pertinent than you thought.
Macfarlane travels the British Isles from his Cambridge base to the windswept wilds of Scotland ,the far west coasts of Wales and Ireland but also find places " where the evidence of human presence was minimal or absent" in lanes in Dorset, the Norfolk coast and the Peak District. He shows admirable commitment to his project bivouacking in woods, dunes , and rocky hollows. He even spends a frigid uncomfortable night in mid-winter on the summit of Ben Hope , one of the times he feels "no companionship with the land" and who can blame him.
This is also a book about ecological damage as well but comes across more as a lament than judgemental hectoring .Much of Britain's wilderness has been destroyed not only in reality but in the abstractions of our minds. We view the landscape through road maps and sat nav and we need he feels , a new cartography that links "headlands ,cliffs beaches, mountaintops, tors ,forests, river-mouths and waterfalls."
Like Mark Cocker MacFarlane is a gifted writer , able to conjure up scenes and images with vivid descriptive prose with out over doing it or resorting to florid overkill. He describes a flock of doves as "applauding in the sky" or the salt marshes of Essex as "tumultuous , green joyous" . This book asks us to consider that these wild places are not necessarily about "asperity but about luxuriance , vitality ,fun". With writers like McFarlane around it's unlikely we will lose our subconscious memory of these places but it makes you question what we have to lose and asserts "we have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like" . That's something that's difficult to argue with.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting at times, 17 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
I really enjoyed Macfarlane's previous book "Mountains of the Mind" in which he explored the cultural and social view of mountains and highlands, how our perceptions towards wild lands has changed over time.

Therefore, I was pleased to find a signed copy of his latest book "The Wild Places" in a local bookshop. He travels the length and breadth of Great Britain and Ireland in search of wilderness. In such over-crowded islands, is he able to find something which most would consider as wilderness? His travels take him from Scotland where he encounters what must be regarded as the classical view of wilderness - big landscapes far removed from population. He then discovers during his travel through the Burren in western Ireland and along the holloways of Dorset that wilderness exists much closer than he previously considered, that humans are as much a part of wilderness as the landscapes themselves and the animals and plants that live there.

One trip seemed to trouble him greatly; he decided to sleep at the summit of Ben Hope during winter, but having found true wilderness in the chill and remoteness of the summit he found himself retreating in defeat back towards the comfort of other people.

While his travels are admirable and purposeful, I couldn't help feel that he wouldn't cut it amongst real explorers to real wild places - if being frightened off Ben Hope then how would he cope surviving in somewhere truly remote like the Arctic? There was also the disappointment that he reached many locations by car - in this regard it could be argued that by reaching the locations so easily and for such short periods of time his experiences only had the surface appearance of tourist trips.

However, these niggles aside, I would still recommend the book and it's good to see someone writing in a literate style about our wild places and peoples' place in the landscape.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "And know the place for the first time...", 22 Aug 2014
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Wild Places (Paperback)
Beechwood to Beechwood. The first book of Robert Macfarlane's that I read, almost a year ago now, was The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. As I do for truly exceptional books, I gave it a "6-star" rating, and knew I would be reading more of his works. With "The Wild Places" I was again dazzled, as well as humbled by this rich, well-written and informative work. Humbled? Yes, Macfarlane is still under 40, yet has the erudition of a well-educated and curious person twice his age. (It does make me even more regret all that time I wasted in committee meetings!) He knows the natural world - well - identifying the flora and fauna, not just as a bird watcher might, with guide in hand. It is like they are old acquaintances. He is on equally familiar terms with the inanimate world, the one of the land itself, its rocks and soil layers. Being in Britain, naturally there is a lot of water, in various forms and states of agitation. He weaves into his depictions of his travels to the remote parts of Britain, the stories of others who have lived there, and often traveled far from their native locales. Well-known writers are a mental companion for him, and they are frequently referenced. So too, some less well-known ones; Macfarlane has now placed Bagnold's The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert (Dover Earth Science) on my reading list.

The Sunday Times of London spoke of his precise prose. And so it is, as well as fresh. Right from the beginning, he draws the reader in with fresh expressions like "Rooks haggle." And he stirred some very dormant memories. How long ago was it since I'd routinely climb trees? Like most of us, just a kid, and for some inexplicable reason, I stopped. Macfarlane, in his thirties, can't resist, and continues, seeking out a favorite beech tree not that far from his home in Cambridge. Trees, and those who love them. Xerxes is normally depicted as one of the "bad guys" of history... a ruthless "oriental" despot, off to crush those freedom-living Greek states. Maybe so, but Macfarlane relates that he loved sycamore trees, and would stop his entire army on the march, to savor some particularly appealing ones.

Macfarlane structures his work around various geographical features, such as island, valley, moor, forest, river-mouth, cape, ridge, holloway, storm-beach, saltmarsh and tor. The seeming exception is "grave,", but in ways it fits, as the author describes a peninsula in County Claire, in the west of Ireland, and the limestone features, some composed of human bones from the millenniums of burials there, which includes those who died in the 1840's as a result of famine. The author presents a chilling account of the cynicism of the landowners that were indifferent to these deaths. Likewise, in the chapter entitled "River-Mouth" I found his depictions of "the Clearances" enlightening (the landowners in northern Scotland forcibly relocated entire villages in order to enhance their ability to graze sheep.) Seeing those "pleasant" pastoral scenes of sheep grazing today, Macfarlane notes: "a caution against romanticism and blitheness."

My first experience with a "Holloway" was walking a section of the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. Less than half a century of travel on the Trace had depressed the road surface at least 6 feet in some areas. With thousands of years of travel along foot and animal paths in Britain, Holloways literally crisscross the isles, but are also largely "invisible." He actively seeks them out, with his own "maps" of the terrain, so different from road maps that give us a very one-dimensional picture of the countryside.

The author sleeps out in the open, in remote places, and no doubt is more "alive" for doing so, truly feeling the natural world. He rarely complains about adverse conditions, and if so, only wryly and obliquely: "But you never mentioned the midges, Sweeney, I thought reproachfully..." (p.59). He quotes numerous American writers, including an icon of the American West, Wallace Stegner, on the importance of wild places to the human psyche.

Roger Deakin was a life-long friend, and many of Macfarlane's travels were in his company. Deakin was another glorious eccentric, who appreciated the natural world. His most famous book is Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain. Deakin left us far too early, a victim of an aggressive brain tumor, at the age of 63. An apt eulogy from Macfarlane: "He was an expert in age: in its charisma and its worth. Everything he owned was worn, used, re-used. If anyone would have known how to age well, it would have been Roger."

Macfarlane end his book, coming full-circle, as the beginning of this review suggests: coming back to the Beechwoods. He quotes a poem by T.S. Eliot whose message is that we may explore far places, and in the end, see the familiar places for the first time. Likewise, Macfarlane realizes that the wild places are not just in the far off Outer Hebrides, but can also be quite close to his home in Cambridge. Another 6-star impressive work.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Combination of beautiful, imaginative, repetitive and irritating, 12 Aug 2008
This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
When I started this book it seemed to be beautiful, imaginative and intelligent. Unfortunately it became rather repetitive and irritating. The additional material - literary and historical was mainly interesting but then he talked about some rather odd folk who devoted a lifetime to wave patterns and sand dunes!!

I also began to dread him being near water because I knew he was going to strip off and jump in - not necessarily for a swim - on his winter night in Cumbria he got in and sat in the freezing water gasping up to his neck - why?????

I began to wonder what was the point of the book. It seemed to be trying to be something it wasn't, especially when compared with Mountains of the Mind which was excellent. I suspect it was the influence of Roger Deakin (Waterlog, Wildwood), a friendship that had developed after writing Mountains of the Mind. Whether deliberately or unconsciously I think he may have been trying to be similarly philosophical, one with nature, 'wild', rejecting conventional modern lifestyle etc Perhaps even more so since Roger died before this book was finished. I ended up skimming over the last chapters.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really special book, 2 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
Can I have more stars, please? This was a wonderful book from beginning to end. Every chapter entranced me and so did the idea, so eloquently expressed, that wildernesses aren't only to be found up mountains or across vast terrains but in our own back gardens and under every hedge. I loved the pared-back elegance of McFarlane writing. I warmed to his commitment to experiencing wildernesses wherever they were to be found and, by the time I'd finished, I was looking at the world around me with new eyes.

This book was really special. And, being as picky a reader as I am a writer, that's not something I often say.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reclaiming my childhood and more, 28 April 2010
By 
Rev. John E. Harris-white "Fr John" (Scotland U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Wild Places (Paperback)
I first met Robert Macfarlane on a TV programme on Essex. His sincerity, and way with words attracted me, as well as his skinny dipping!
So I bought the book, and travelled with him throughout parts of the United Kingdom and Eire.
Ilove his obvious skill with words, and poetry, allowing you to be with him in these various places. Some of them reminding me of growing up in the West Country.
Yes he challenges us in our modern day love of all things secular, and materialistic, which Im glad to accept.
He gives me a sneeking respect for his family that allow him the time to go off alone, or with like minded friends, sleeping out at night alone. Rightly in my opinion that is his private domain, and unlike so many people today, I respect his family and private life. It belongs to them , not us. He has given us enough of himself in sharing his travels.
Thank myou for a fine book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars makes you want to get out there..., 17 Jan 2008
By 
A. S. Taylor "avon maroc" (E17, london) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
A book that celebrates all that is so utterly wonderful about being on top of a hill when the wind gets up and the rain comes down. This young Cambridge don has taken an idea and seen it through with admirable commitment. He really does reach some pretty faraway spots and sleeps out in them! In extreme weather... Brilliant! We know that our ancestors or ascetic monks have done it, but it's another thing in the modern age to sleep out on a mountain without a tent in midwinter. He writes with flair and feeling - eager to capture why we all love to walk along the shore, up the peak, along the track. He is guilty of overwriting at times and he does get a little morbid regarding his friend (of four years) roger deakin. He doesnt quite have the natural humanity of deakin - read 'waterlog' for a real masterpiece. But that kind of wisdom comes with age. And here Macfarlane has left us with a book to inspire and jolt us into adventure. hear hear... am already planning my trip
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The Wild Places
The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane (Paperback - 7 July 2008)
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