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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 17 January 2008
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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on 17 August 2012
I stumbled on this book by accident when it was offered as a 'Kindle daily deal': as a fan of Bruce Chatwin and Benedict Allen I thought it sounded interesting, given that the 'wild places' Macfarlane was describing were more domestic than exotic. I wasn't expecting it to challenge, stimuate and change my way of looking at things quite so radically as it did.

Macfarlane's prose is as smooth and seductive as a gentle summer breeze and he manages to evoke a description of the wild places he visits so that they come alive on the page. But perhaps most significantly, he challenges the traditional concept of 'wildness' making us realise that we do not necessarily have to tramp Rannock Moor or spend a night out on Orford Ness to know what wildness is. The book traces a journey in both a physical and metaphorical sense and when I finished it I felt as if I had taken a journey too.

I now intend to buy a paperback copy for myself - I need it on my shelf - and it's going to be a Christmas gift for several of my friends this year. Cannot wait to read his other books. If only all impulse purchases were this good!
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on 4 January 2010
What can I add to the many other reviews? I can explain why I gave this book five stars - something I rarely do. One of the reasons is for the same reason some of the other reasons didn't - the writing. I did find the writing style beautiful. I too am averse to the self-conscious, pretentious school of "beautiful writing" that the literary critics seem so keen on these days, so I can only conclude - this book is indeed beautifully written. The quirks mentioned by some others - swimming, tree climbing, and collecting stones - are minor and added to the sense of a voyage around Britain. This book reawoke my love of the British countryside, and made me want to visit these places, and just get out more in general. The paradox of course is that if everyone feels like me, these places will no longer be wild.

So if you want a beautiful, evocative description of Britain's few remaining wild places, as well as a literary and spiritual journey, I recommend this book without reservation.
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on 12 August 2008
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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on 19 April 2008
This collection of essays is not in the same league as the wonderful 'Mountains of the Mind'.

The writing here is often sharp and lyrical, and Macfarlane frequently makes unexpected connections with ideas and writing that cause the reader to think in new ways. However, there is a lingering sense of 'urban tourist' to my mind.

Ironically, for a book which tries to examine place and belonging, there is a strange rootlesness that tends to look at the world in an almost colonial way. This is most obvious in the sections which deal with Scotland, Ireland or Wales, all countries with combine a strong sense of 'place with indigenous literature and language.

Macfarlane never really seems to get to grips with this, and seems to see these countries as variations of a type of 'Englishness' that are seen through the prism of the English literary canon. He makes little acknowledgement of the link between landscape and language (Gaelic and Welsh) and the fact that there are cultural traditions that predate the Romantic poets who 'discovered' and idealised wild landscape.

In summary, this is an interesting but flawed collection of essays.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 January 2008
My Christmas stocking was bulging with some of the many books that have popped up over the past year or so to do with the wild places and wildlife associated with those places. This book is the first of my bumper bundle I have read and the rest have a lot to live up to.

This book reads like a dream. If there is a small degree of repetition in here, I believe it is because the author was trying to find common linkeages between the different types of wild places in the UK which he is able to do by performing the same acts but using the landscape differently in each one. For example he sleeps out doors in a variety of locations such as Bronze Age Brochs, under the storm lifted roots of a tree during a snow storm and in a disused hut on the moors. Same action but different experiences.

One small caveat might be that you have to share the author's enthusiasm for the countryside and the "wild" places to get the most out of this book. Also, by describing these places so eloquently and being specific about where they are, he might end up destroying what it is about them that makes them so special because, like me, many of the book's readers will want to visit these locations. Let's just make sure we don't all go at once!
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on 28 April 2010
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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on 11 April 2014
I'm in love with this book and I know it will be one of those treasured writings on nature I will pick up time and time again. Macfarlane is a gifted writer and his experience of (and of being truly 'in') the natural world is thoroughly captivating. It's really made me think about the enclosed spaces in which we live our lives; the importance of open spaces; and of the wild places which do still, thankfully, exist. I fell in love with Roger Deakin's books long ago and Macfarlane (a close friend of Deakin's) has mastered the same art: of bringing the natural world into your living room and, more importantly, making you want to go out and find it for yourself. Deakin is sorely missed, but Macfarlane takes forward his message and many other insights of his own. Buy this book!
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on 4 September 2012
I bought an already pretty battered copy of this book on a whim in a second hand book shop (sorry, Amazon!). I picked it up after my friend had dismissed it, and I am so so glad that I did. I honestly believe that this book is a life changer.
There is something about it that just says "and you could do this too!" As he wanders the British Isles in search of truly wild places, he discovers things about the world and himself in the process, and for anyone that has ever felt that they need a bit more wildness in your soul a lot of what he says will resonate with you.
It's an absolutely brilliant book, an adventure in itself, and I doubt that anyone that reads it will be able to stay indoors for long while doing so. I read it while camping in different wild areas of Scotland, and it made me go out for wanders and walks in places that I may otherwise have been afraid of doing, it's that inspirational. Read it, you won't regret it!
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on 1 June 2016
MacFarlane's prose has the same intricacy as the landscapes he describes. He is as focused on the detail written into the grain of a pebble as he is on the form of a mountain peak. MacFarlane travels far and while over Britain and Ireland to bring us a series of landscape essays and frequently refers back to previous chapters to highlight subtle connections which link places together. He explores how wild places can be found in less obvious locations; often close to home in towns or cities or on the smallest of scales. My only criticism of MacFarlane is he sometimes over-writes. A narrative of a walk will be flowing in beautiful prose and you're there with him. But suddenly, he will take a divergent path onto some other topic. It's not just for a sentence or three to add context, but page after page until you've forgotten the narrative of his walk. Usually this is to add context or reference but for me it gives a staccato feel to his writting and can (for me at least) be a little frustrating. Often too he uses words which he knows are not in common parlance. Perhaps he thinks these provide more accurate vocabulary but I sense there's a small part of him which wants to sound clever. Clever he is though, and the way he weaves his words sets him apart from many writers within this genre. Above all, he writes about what I care about and I feel he's inside my head reading my thoughts. I want to sit aloft in the beech tree with him and share with him that sense of wonderment of this island we call home and gaze out and wonder.
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