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on 19 April 2012
I don't normally review the books I read but I felt I really had to say a few words about Tristan Gooley`s The Natural Explorer. Perhaps because I'm immersed in the emerging topic of mindfulness or the fact I'm off to exotic climes in a while and becoming an environmental sponge, I seemed to be receptive to inspiration by other than the usual diet of purple prose from the outdoors glossies. The book comes hot on the heels of my reading of Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust and Winnifred Gallagher's Rapt so it was with eager anticpation I booked the couch for the day and settled down with The Natural Explorer.

It follows the format of the Natural Navigator books, short digestible chapters which in this case take you round the world in the company of the likes of Humboldt, Muir, Thoreau, Ibn Battuta and Eberhardt. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of exploring and to illustrate each point Mr. Gooley pauses while he opens a cupboard door and out pops another fascinating individual with a memorable quote or anecdote. How a walk in the South Downs is transformed into an international imaginational romp is just wonderful. After each chapter I rummaged around on the net and Amazon to add to my reading list from the wonderful cast of characters that bring life and wonder to the pages of this beautifully written book.

As the chapters progress they become more reflective and philosophical with the final two bringing me out in goosebumps and I read them slowly, going over each paragraph twice, savouring the writing and the exquisite call to imagination. This book is a wonderful antidote to the pedestrian publications which although fill a small hole, cause one to miss the gaping maw of missed experience one doesn't even know is there.

If I could compare the book to a drink I'd say it was a well crafted 18 year old malt from the Gooley distillery. You know what to expect if you've read The Natural Navigator but this book has a lingering aftertaste provided by the last two chapters that surprises and delights the reader.

If you're an outdoor blogger, read this book and rebuke the wonderful observation from Rebecca Solnit that:

"The combination of a silver tongue and iron thighs seems to be a rare one".
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on 25 August 2014
Gives good insight to what is around you but often invisible to the casual walker.
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on 21 March 2012
In "The Natural Explorer" Tristan reminds us that to be an explorer you don't have to do some amazing physical feat pitting yourself against nature and the elements. He tells us that a simple walk in the countryside can be a great exploration - there is so much to see, to experience, to respond to. What's lovely about this book is that while it cites the writings of great travellers of the past, it furnishes us with a language and approach that can make explorers of us all.

I loved the touches of human discovery that Tristan attaches to often familiar places in the world. For example I've always wanted to see Fingal's Cave with its hexagonal basalt pillars - it's so familiar from photos - reading Tristan's passage on this means I'll not just tick-it-off my list when I do get there, I'll really appreciate both the physical side and the human impact it has had on people. This book is full of passages and insights like this - it adds great value to our experience of the landscape.

"The Natural Explorer" will give so much to the reader who appreciates being outside and who enjoys peeking beneath the surface of what they see.

If there's one down-side to this book it's that your list of places to visit will get so much longer!
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on 2 April 2012
I can see where other reviews are coming from on this book - when it's good, it's very good, bringing together elements of science, history and culture to help people look afresh at the character and elements of the landscapes around them, reminding us of a time when exploration was as more about pushing the boundaries of understanding and experience, than pushing the boundaries of physical achievement. Rightly, Gooley laments that exporation has become little more than a synonym for adventure.

My criticisms of the book are partly that for those with a moderate grounding in natural history, there aren't quite enough "aha" or "I never knew that" moments in the book, perhaps partly due to the restricted range of historical explorers referenced (going into detail on Humboldt, Darwin and Leichhard, wetting the appetite for more detail on others). Also, there are a number of inaccuracies in the text which detract from the authority of the work, for example suggesting that the reason that mountain climbers start summit days early is primarily to avoid cloud which forms later in the day (rather than minimising time spent at peak altitude, or climbing before the surface of the snow gets softened by sunlight), or another point where the mass of a cloud is described as 1 billion kg (only true if you include the mass of the air that was already there before the cloud appeared - the mass of water is about 1/200 of that, or 5,000 metric tons). But for the errors, I'd probably have given this four stars though, so later editions will probably be well worth a look.
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on 26 March 2014
I bought this expecting a book giving guidance on how to spot and locate features in the landscape, which would be useful while walking. I must back up the thoughts of another reviewer who therfore found it different to expectations. Instead of helping you learn about spotting the quirks of the landscape around us, each chapter just gives a quite flowery description of a partiocular aspact of 'landscape' - e.g. trees, water. So, in the sky chapter, you get a general desription of what sky is, attached to quotes from famous authors/explorers about how 'sky' made them feel. Despite being quite dismissive in calling it flowery, taking a chapter a day, or a book to dip into it can be quite inspiring, and triggers a general thought in you to keep your eyes a bit wider open next time you are out - but if you have been out and about and saw a particular feature you want to learn more about, this book won't help you.

I get the impression (from the other reviewer), that Gool;ey's other book 'The Natural Navigator' may have been the book I was aiming at, and much more helpful for actually teaching something about the British landcsape, rather than general inspiration.
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on 10 April 2012
Very disappointing! That's all that I can say about this book. The cynic in me wonders if Tristan Gooley's publisher said, "The Natural Navigator was such a success we've got to cash in on this so now you've got to write another book." It appears that Tristan Gooley may be a `one trick pony' who is very knowledgeable about natural navigation and is able to communicate this in an interesting and stimulating manner.

The book goes nowhere and, quite frankly, bored me. I couldn't wait to get to the end. At the start of every chapter I hoped that I would be engaged by the text but, unfortunately, at the end of each I kept returning to the same questions, "What have I learned from reading this?" and "How many more pages are there?"
Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of geography, geomorphology, meteorology or interest in the natural world will probably have already acquired the knowledge contained within this book through study or first-hand experience. Some parts of the book appeared to be no more than state the glaringly obvious but add a bit of philosophy and throw in a quote and no-one will notice.

It's not often that I find a book that I want to put down but this was certainly one of these. It seems to be a collection of the mental ramblings of an author mixed with the occasional bit of philosophy and interspersed with far too many quotes from other writers.

I loved The Natural Navigator, read it in one sitting, made notes and have subsequently re-read it twice as well as using the skills in my walking trips. If, like me, you read The Natural Navigator and found it an interesting and practical book that presented new skills for you to practise and apply then this book may not be for you. It certainly wasn't for me.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 March 2012
I would just like to add to the praise already garnered for this book. Unlike many others I wasn't totally convinced by The Natural Navigator, I enjoyed it but thought it tried to shoehorn too many disparate elements into it. This book on the other hand is a total pleasure and convinces in a way that the plethora of gung ho/try and get as many miles in as you can/further, faster, longer sort of books don't for me. I don't see the point in trying to knock off a twenty mile walk if you don't take the time to see what is going on around you, whether this is totally natural, partly as a result of man's intervention or indeed almost totally man-made (the field system for example. This book contains the ideal justification for slowing down, paying attention to what is going on around you, and probably knocking a few miles off any planned walk you choose to do. I also like the idea that it need not be enjoyed just by the serious "walker" but by anyone who can find for example, a snatched 5 minutes waiting in your car at traffic lights to look, smell and listen to what is going on around you. If you do this you might be surprised and this book should be your inspiration to try.
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on 12 March 2012
I love this book! It has given me the chance to look at the nature surrounding us in a different light. Its a pleasure to escape from the all consuming technological revolution and immerse myself in exploring and re-connecting with nature. Buy this book - its great!
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on 13 May 2012
Really interesting and well researched book about observing and enjoying the environment around us as we go about travelling, walking or even just sitting in the garden. Lots of interesting examples, facts and points to think about from Gooley's wide repertoire. Being a lover of skiing and having lived in Tuscany I particularly enjoyed the chapter on mountains.

If you are passionate about both travel and the outdoors then this could become your favourite book.
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on 15 August 2012
This book is a collection of essays around the theme of looking at the landscape around you from a new perspective. It is well written but does not have the same coherence as his previous book, The Natural Navigator.

His subject matters cover the coast, rivers, mountains, and being a book written by an Englishmen, the weather. He also considers the how the human population has impacted the land and has some philosophical moments when writing about senses and inner moods.
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