Posts filed under Books

Summer Reading List

 Summer Reading List –2015

Summer Reading List –2015

It’s heartwarming, striding into a small, high street bookshop anywhere in the UK and finding whole shelves devoted to nature writing; even my home town’s WHSmith’s carries a selection of Robert Macfarlane’s titles. I’m not sure if more people are writing about nature or if the UK public are finally taking notice and they are getting the shelf space they deserve. Either way it feels like a nature writing renaissance, with the likes of Roger Deakin, Richard Mabey, Macfarlane and Caught By The River paving the way. I find it hard to track down these books, and books with the same sensibility in US bookstores. 

On a recent trip to the UK I couldn’t help stocking up on books, and blowing most of my luggage allowance getting them back to USA, the fruits of my labor are below, with their Amazon descriptions.

Feral - George Monbiot
How many of us sometimes feel that we are scratching at the walls of this life, seeking to find our way into a wider space beyond? That our mild, polite existence sometimes seems to crush the breath out of us? Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot's efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives. Making use of some remarkable scientific discoveries, Feral lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way. Get a copy here.

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm – Roger Deakin
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm is a collection of writing by Roger Deakin For the last six years of his life, Roger Deakin kept notebooks in which he wrote his daily thoughts, impressions, feelings and observations about and around his home, Walnut Tree Farm. Collected here are the very best of these writings, capturing his extraordinary, restless curiosity about nature as well as his impressions of our changing world. Get a copy here.

Caught By The River - A Collection of Words on Water
From the Thames to the Telford, the Wear to the Wellsbourne; from canoe adventures to ice-skating, from angling to day-dreaming, "Caught by the River" is an exceptional new take on nature writing. Here, the writers take you on a journey down some of our most famous waterways and some of its best kept secrets. Funny, surprising, delightful and poignant, they all share one thing - a passion for the rivers of Britain and Ireland. The result is a uniquely modern take on an age old writing tradition - a rock 'n' rock nature book ever. The authors, many acclaimed and the rest soon to be, each contribute to a collection of writing as varied and unexpected as the rivers themselves.This evocative anthology of the best new nature writing is presented in a collection of essays on some of our favourite rivers, covering the entire length of the country. Get a copy here.

The Moor – William Atkins
In this deeply personal journey across our nation's most forbidding and most mysterious terrain, William Atkins takes the reader from south to north, in search of the heart of this elusive landscape. His account is both travelogue and natural history, and an exploration of moorland's uniquely captivating position in our literature, history and psyche. Atkins may be a solitary wanderer across these vast expanses, but his journey is full of encounters, busy with the voices of the moors, past and present: murderers and monks, smugglers and priests, gamekeepers and ramblers, miners and poets, developers and environmentalists. Get a copy here.

Rising Ground – Philip Marsden
Why do we react so strongly to certain places? Why do layers of mythology build up around particular features in the landscape? When Philip Marsden moved to a remote creekside farmhouse in Cornwall, the intensity of his response took him aback. It led him to begin exploring these questions, prompting a journey westwards to Land's End through one of the most fascinating regions of Europe. Get a copy here.

Wanderlust - A History of Walking – Rebecca Solnit
Drawing together many histories-of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores-Rebecca Solnit creates a fascinating portrait of the range of possibilities presented by walking. Arguing that the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit focuses on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from philosophers to poets to mountaineers. She profiles some of the most significant walkers in history and fiction-from Wordsworth to Gary Snyder, from Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet to Andre Breton's Nadja-finding a profound relationship between walking and thinking and walking and culture. Solnit argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in our ever more car-dependent and accelerated world. Get a copy here.

Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel
Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December, together with its biography. In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren,the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last. Get a copy here.

A Brush with Nature – Richard Mabey
Described as 'Britain's greatest living nature writer', Richard Mabey has revealed his passion for the natural world in eloquent stories for BBC Wildlife Magazine. This volume features his favourite pieces and presents a fascinating and inspiring view of the changing natural landscape in which we live. Get a copy here.

I hope this inspires some reading, I certainly have a lots to do. If anyone has suggestions for books or authors from the USA that I should be reading please let me know. 

River Cottage Handbooks

 River Cottage Handbooks

River Cottage Handbooks

Field guides, cookbooks, gardeners manuals, forager's friends, sustainability source-books, fisherman's companions and ethical way markers – the River Cottage Handbooks form an ever expanding reference library; a set of contemporary, practical guidebooks; the culinary equivalent of the Audubom Field Guides.

River Cottage began as a small-holding project of chef and journalist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, it was his attempt to live a simpler life, away from the trappings of a larger city, a way he could have a closer, more conscious relationship with the food he consumed. From simple beginnings River Cottage has now become a culinary empire and while it has grown exponentially it hasn't wavered in it's ethical, hands-on, back-to-basics philosophy. The River Cottage Handbooks are the embodiment of this. 

 Building my collection

Building my collection

For those familiar with the River Cottage series, you may recognize some of the handbooks' authors – John Wright, Pam 'The Jam' Corbin, Gill Meller and Nick Fisher to name a few. It is this pedigree of authors that makes each handbooks truly invaluable, while each has recipes they are far more than cookbooks, they are a deep-dive into the authors specific specialty. You not only learn how to cook herbs you learn how to grow, cultivate, harvest and store the finished product. You don't just learn how to cook fish, you learn how and where to catch them and how to eat sustainably. The books are exquisitely presented, with colour photography and easy to follow instructions for all experience levels. They seem to operate slightly away from the TV goings-on, and have a timeless, practical quality.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is certainly a polarizing character, even within my family opinions are mixed. Some see him as a rich kid, backed by Channel 4 money, living in some kind of fantasy world, preaching to all about his virtues. For others he is a real pioneer; someone that cares deeply about how we feed ourselves and about the moral, ethical and environmental impact that we have on the world.

I find myself in the later camp – I've watched Hugh ever since 1995 when he presented "A cook on the Wildside" and have watched the entire "River Cottage" series many times. I find myself continually inspired by his escapades, and while he does bullishly preach the virtues of his lifestyle, at least he walks the walk with his activism, and as Yvon Chouinard said “To do good, you actually have to do something.”

For the last few Christmases and birthdays I have managed to acquire several of the handbooks and have started building the complete collection. They are now go-to's for inspiration as well as guidance. Hunt them out.

Roger Deakin - Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain

 Roger Deakin - Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain - 1999

Roger Deakin - Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain - 1999

It was on one of Roger Deakin's daily swims, in his moat at Walnut Tree Farm, that the master plan behind 'Waterlog' was hatched - to explore the ancient tradition of wild swimming on an aquatic peregrination through the bays, beaches, rivers, brooks, lidos and pools of Great Britain.

Inspired in part by John Cheever's "The Swimmer" and his own son's adventures overseas, Deakin explores the British Isles at water level. His journey takes him from glacial tarns of the Welsh highlands, seemingly bottomless and home to legend and myth; to the abandoned university swimming holes, haunted by tales of students who once swam there; from the Victorian Lido's in their fading glory, struggling to make ends meet; all the way to Britain's beach desert of Dungeness.

While Deakin wore many hats, I feel he can be truly crowned king of the nature writers. He weaves history, culture, science, anthropology and natural history into each beautiful, dreamlike narrative, making it impossible not follow in the wake of his swimming tale. This book is so charming, poetic, romantic and moving you long to be standing on the banks, shouting encouragement, ready to leap into action with a towel and a thermos of Bovril upon his emergence.

Sadly Waterlog was the only book Deakin completed in his lifetime, although two more have been published posthumously. I have already bought Waterlog for a number of friends and since I finished it I have swum every weekend in homage to Deakin, and in celebration of the romance and nostalgia of wild swimming.

Posted on August 12, 2014 and filed under Books.

House of Hardy – 1969 Catalogue

  The House of Hardy - Anglers Catalogue 1969

The House of Hardy - Anglers Catalogue 1969

Found this gem in Macleod's Books, Vancouver. What a wonderful book shop, there are piles of seemingly unorganized books to rifle through. This catalogue came from its depths; a real fishing time capsule, one to study and drool over. I uploaded a whole bunch of catalogue pages here. Check out the "Anglers and Sportsman's Pipe."

  The House of Hardy - Mark 1969

The House of Hardy - Mark 1969

The imagery in this catalogue is pure fishing gold but I especially love their logo - thick lines and great colours.

Posted on November 6, 2013 and filed under Books, History.

The Tracker

 The Tracker

The Tracker

I recently spent a couple of nights in Portland, Oregon. Upon arrival I instinctively headed straight for Powell's City of Books and did some serious damage to their outdoors section. During my spree I purchased a copy of "The Tracker" by Tom Brown Jr. To my shame I'd never heard of him before, but the cover looked awesome and there were three different re-prints of this one book so I figured it must be something special.

It turns out I was right - what a great read. It follows Brown and his friend Rick through their childhood as they learn to live with the woods and develop their skills in tracking and wilderness survival. They are guided by Rick's grandfather, a Native American called "Stalking Wolf,"  and as they unravel his cryptic challenges, each one created to hone their outdoor skills, they learn to become "one with the Spirit-That- Moves-Through- All-Things." 

This book is about learning to live in harmony with nature, Brown states that - "Stalking Wolf often told us that nature would never hurt us as long as we went with it and did not panic. As long as we were in tune with nature we were invulnerable." Following this seemingly simple rule Brown travels the country, living off the land and learning all he can as he grows into one of the countries most qualified trackers and outdoorsman.

"The Tracker" is vividly written and Browns stories are truly incredible and engrossing, I'm excited that he has an extensive list of publications for me to get stuck into. Brown has now helped track and find countless missing people, dangerous animals and fugitives of the law throughout the USA. He founded the Tracker School in 1978 from Pine Barrens in New Jersey where he teaches the skills he learned and developed.

Posted on October 20, 2013 and filed under Books.

Chris Yates – The Lost Diary

Chris Yates talking about his lost diary

UPDATE: The book has been successfully funded so keep an eye out in the coming months!

I have spoken about Mr Yates in past posts - he is one of my favorite fishermen; he is beloved by nearly every British angler as an author, photographer and staunch advocate for vintage fishing gear and methods. Over the last few months, in anticipation for Maine's fishing season, I read a few of his books - each one is a masterpiece. I knew through Yates' reputation and his previous works that I would love these books, but as each one unfolded I became further charmed and impressed by Yates; his philosophies, his love for the outdoors, nature and, of course, tea. All of which resonate with me and my beliefs.

When I came to the end of "Nightwalk", Yates' magical and lyrical book about walking through nighttime British countryside, I was keen to find out what he was up to next. It was in this search that I came across his intended crowd funded next publication. Entitled "The Lost Diaries" the book is exactly that, a  book of his recently rediscovered fishing diaries dating from the 1980s, including "the last days Chris spent fishing at Redmire after his record catch and the early days of the Golden Scale Club." 

 How to Fish and On Fishing at Sea

How to Fish and On Fishing at Sea

So for my sake, and for the sake of all those that love and cherish nature,  the outdoors and Yates' writing, take a look at this video and perhaps consider donating to this book. Funding is being sourced through unbound.co.uk which is very much like kick-starter. For a minimum donation of GBP10 you will receive a copy of the book and also have your name published in the back.

So far I have read "How to Fish", "Nightwalk" and "On Fishing at Sea " these are still readily available and I cannot speak highly enough of them.

Posted on April 18, 2013 and filed under Books, Fishing, Hero.

The Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher

 Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher

Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher

I just finished "The Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher" a truly engrossing collection of Fletchers stories, each one painting an increasingly vivid picture of Fletcher through his musings. He strives endlessly and at times aggressively for solitude as he passes through different, changing landscapes hunting an epiphany, an answer to a question which haunted him; just how is it possible (if at all) for man to live in harmony with nature in the modern age.

This is not an instructional book like "The Complete Walker" and is less of a travelogue than "The Man Who Walked Through Time" but I feel it's essential reading for anyone true lover of the great outdoors.

Posted on April 9, 2013 and filed under Books.

Pacific Crest Trail

  William R. Gray - The Pacific Crest Trail, 1975

William R. Gray - The Pacific Crest Trail, 1975

I just finished reading "The Pacific Crest Trail" by William R. Gray, published by the National Geographic Society. This is a terrific book, well worth hunting down. Gray is a gifted writer, mixing natural history, trail history and a diary style narrative as he and photographer Sam Abell walk the trail. There is a strong focus on the people they meet and their stories. Their intention was never to thru-hike, this meant they were able to stop along the way to explore, expanding the narrative. Abell's photographs are exceptional, they are very artistic and complement Gray's writing perfectly.

Gray continued as a writer, editor, and publishing executive at National Geographic until 2001 and now teaches as San Juan college. His other books include "Camping Adventure (Books For Young Explorers)" and "Voyages to Paradise," both are now on my wish list. Abell continues to shoot with National Geographic and has been published in over 20 articles. He has also released several photography books and exhibited his work numerous times. See more of Abels work here.

Treeless Maple Syrup

 Treeless Maple Syrup from Taming the Wilds

Treeless Maple Syrup from Taming the Wilds

After pack weight, trail food would have to be one of the most talked about hiking subjects. I am fascinated by the creative recipes written in older hiking books. The most interesting come from a time before commercial hiking food, when hikers managed with some fresh produce and dry staples, adding to their larder by hunting and gathering. Most recipes are fairly predictable rabbit stew, fish, beans and breads.

There is one recipe, however, that stuck in my head more than any other. Treeless Maple Syrup from Bradford Angier's 1967 publication "Taming the Wilds."

 Finished Syrup

Finished Syrup

This recipe is for those living outside the North East who do not have access to maple trees.

6 medium potatoes 2 cups water 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup white sugar

Peel the potatoes. Boil uncovered with 2 cups of water until one cup of fluid remains. Remove the potatoes and use any way you want. Stirring the liquid until the boiling point has been once again reached, slowly add the sugar. Once this has entirely dissolved set the pan off the heat to cool slowly.
— Bradford Angier - Taming the Wilds, 1967

It can then be bottled.


Being a newcomer to New England, and not having had the chance to make my own maple syrup yet, I thought I would give it a try. I'd love to report it was incredible but as per Angier's instructions I am leaving it to mature. An initial tasting was accurate to Angier's prediction, realising my "worst fears" flavour wise. He advised placing it in a dark place for several days the results of which he promises will be surprising. I shall report back once ready.

UPDATE: Results are in.

Posted on November 13, 2011 and filed under Books, Recipe.