There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.
Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.
I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland's stark beauty was as familiar to me as my childhood home. I had friends at school whose parents were hill farmers on the moors, where you seemed to travel back in time and you'd be lucky to find a bathroom that wasn't a tin bath in front of the fire. So it was very easy to fall in with Carter's enthusiasm for the landscape (though, given I am from the Lancashire side of the Pennines, perhaps less so for his heavy-handed Yorkshire plugging).
On the nature side, I'll be honest, I'm not the natural audience. I've never been particularly interested in birds, which feature strongly here. It's not that I don't enjoy looking at them if I come across them, but they aren't the stand-out feature to me that the clearly are to Carter. I'd also say that there's perhaps a bit too much repetition of the experience of being on the moor itself. Not because I don't appreciate it - I do - but rather because I got to the point of wanting to say 'Okay, I get it!'
Although I might object to any aggressive Yorkshireness, I did really enjoy Carter's rant, somewhat reminiscent of David Mitchell in full flow, about the need to set Wuthering Heights and Bronte-stuff in general here on the Pennine moors, not in the Yorkshire Dales, as filmmakers and the like regularly seem to misplace it.
All in all, this is probably best described as a great ramble on the moor with an expert guide. Rambling definitely comes into it, as we skip from season to season, or switch attention from the miniature botanical landscape (just say heather and bilberry to me, and I'm weak at the knees) established in the top of an old fence post, to Carter's vacuum flask of tea (with some thoughts on Dewar and his development of it) to John Tyndall, explaining why the sky is blue. It's a wuthering wonder.
Nature writing is big now but a lot of it takes itself quite seriously. Which is why I found On the Moor a refreshing read. The tone is irreverent, conversational, and no-nonsense; the mix of science, history, and nature (exactly as it says on the tin) is well executed, often illuminating, and always interesting (I'm a Darwin fan myself); and the whole is entertaining and satisfying. I read it in the evenings, and I found myself looking forward to my daily walk on the moor. Here's a quote that sums it up for me: "Slow down, breathe deep, open your eyes, and pay attention. Become more familiar with the already familiar. Go for depth, not breadth. Go for malt, not blend."
It has been a great pleasure to join Richard Carter on his ramblings on and around "The Moor". And ramblings they have been; from vestigial pelvises, to the isolation of command, to trigonometry, to an American Footballer's face-paint, and to a wealth of places besides. While in body I have been hurtling towards the great metropolis in a cramped metal box, in spirit I have been with Mr C' in the mud and mist and snow (and occasional sunshine) of a moor so empty and open that it defies perspective and which he clearly loves with a corresponding enormity.
For Richard, the springboard to the secrets of the natural world, or to history or science, can be the hollow of a rotting fencepost just as well as a bronze-age burial site or a stooping falcon. Our trips around The Moor have taken us up to the trig' point and along the flagstone path to Saharan sand in South America, satellites in orbit and accidental nineteenth centaury poisonings. And rambling though it may be, you know from the outset that this ground is so familiar to him that Richard will bring us home with practiced ease, stopping only for a vacuum flask of tea on the way.