Robert Macfarlane at Cape Wrath


Cape Wrath s the most north-westerly point in the mainland Britain. Robert Macfarlane described arriving at the cape in Wild Places.

I looked out to sea and watched the waves build as they approached the land, curling up out of the water along their length, like flicked ropes. The air above the sea was live with scores of birds: fulmars planing the wind in white curves, stubby guillemots like winged cigars, whirring along just above the waves, gulls making their weightless turns and angles, and giving their quick cries. So much life was at work in this place! I picked out one fulmar and followed its motion for a few minutes, watching the laterals of its gliding wings, wondering what sort of pattern its complex flight-path would make if it could be plotted. Out of sight to the east were the Clo Mor Cliffs, home to a far bigger seabird colony: tens of thousands of puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes.

Wilds of the Upper Thames

A short extract from a wonderful documentary with Robert Macfarlane: The Other Side of Essex – Unexpected Wilderness, a  year-long exploration of Essex right on the county’s edge, on the north shore of the upper Thames.

“Essex illustrates perfectly how, across England, we misunderstand, overlook and underestimate the power of our own wild places. This film reveals our misconceptions, and brings reassuring and surprising news – and hopefully will encourage us to act fast to protect our last remaining native wildernesses.”

Simon Prosser on reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks

Simon Prosser on reading Robert Macfarlane’s LandmarksPenguin publisher Simon Prosser on his experience reading Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.

“When I finished reading the first draft of Robert Macfarlane’s new book on landscape and language, I found that my vocabulary had notably and delightfully expanded:

I now knew ‘rionnach maoim’ (a Hebridean Gaelic term for ‘the shadows cast by cumulus clouds on moorland on a sunny, windy day’); ‘smeuse’ (Sussex dialect for ‘the hole in the base of a hedgerow made by the repeated passage of a small animal’); ‘af’rug’ (a Shetland word for ‘the reflex of a wave after it has struck the shore’); and ‘wind-fucker’ (the perfect East Anglian dialect nickname for a kestrel), along with ‘blonking’ (snowing), ‘babbing’ (fishing for eels) and ‘jirglin’ (playing about with water).”

All of these words, and thousands more, collected over a decade by Rob from the Shetlands to Cornwall, from Pembrokeshire to Suffolk, and from old Norse to Romani, appear in Landmarks, in the nine glossaries which interleave the ten chapters of the book. (Landmarks also describes Rob’s  journeys into the mines of Cumbria, the moors of the Hebrides and the corries of the Cairngorms, as well as his meetings with glossarians, poets and word-collectors up and down the country.)

Landmarks is a book about the power of language – ‘strong style, single words’ in Rob’s phrase – to shape our sense of place. It is both a  field-guide to the literature he loves (Nan Shepherd, Barry Lopez and Roger Deakin and more) and also a ‘Word-Hoard’, to borrow the title of the opening chapter. Over the course of the book we can chart a kind of love-affair between writer and language. The authors Rob is most drawn to tend to write with an exact and committed intensity about their chosen landscapes, in styles strong enough to revise our imaginary relations with places. They aim, in the words from Emerson which Rob quotes in the book, to ‘pierce…rotten diction and fasten words to visible things’, They are celebrants of the specific – and so too is Rob. More here

The home of Steve Dilworth

Robert Macfarlane described his visit to the home on the Isle of Lewis of landscape artist Steve Dilworth in ‘The Old Ways’.

“These are some of the materials he uses in his work: the skulls, beaks, bodies, eyes, skins and wings of herons, wrens, guillemots, gannets, woodcock, fulmars, swans, owls, sparrow-hawks, buzzards, black-backed gulls, hooded crows, puffin, sand-eels, john dories and dragonflies; tallow, lard, blubber, sperm; seawater collected during equinoctial gales, freshwater gathered from a deep well, still air gathered in a chapel, storm air gathered in the overhang of a boulder; the north wind, the south wind; the bone, baleen and teeth of minke and humpback whales; the vertebrae of porpoises and sheep; bronze, brass, silver, nickel, copper; dolerite, gneiss, granite, soapstone, alabaster; ten-thousand-year-old bog oak, walnut, mulberry, rosewood; the prow of a fishing boat; hawking lures; sea-beans, sand-dollars, sea-urchins; eggs, feathers and sand.

These are some of the things he has made: a lead casket, barred with whale-bone and bound with rope, containing a phial of storm-water; a foot-long mulberry chamber, the shape of a coffee bean, ribbed in steel, that contains the body of a blackbird; a hollow case made of a shell of lignum vitae and a shield of whalebone, containing loose dolphin teeth, the whole bound with fishing rope; a walnut sarcophagus, edged and locked with brass, containing a bird made of bog-oak, beaked and tailed with bronze; a hollow soapstone cone containing hundreds of dried fish eyes; a pair of herons, kills from a fish-farm, locked into an embrace, their wings hung with hundreds of fish-hooks, their legs bound with fine black cord (archaeopteryx-fetish; an avian BDSM dance).

It can be hard to know how to describe the work: totem objects, sarcophagi, talismans, effigies, rattles, rocking stones, throwing stones, kists, charms, fetishes, jujus. Dredgings from the common consciousness. Archetypes materialised. Hints of mountebank recipes, crocked cure-alls (hold this and it will heal you…) but also entreaties to faith. One piece, the body of a wren sealed in a dark-oak kist, with jointed bronze legs folding out from the underside, is designed to be ‘thrown into an inner landscape’.

It can be hard to know how to describe Dilworth: wizard, shaman, showman, mountebank, Jungian, joker, crypto-zoologist, votary of the deathly and the defiled. He is tall and warlock-ish in appearance. Those who know the work but not him imagine him to be severe, forbidding. In fact, he laughs and jokes almost unstoppably. This is a good thing. A shaman who took himself seriously would be insufferable. He does, though, take his work very seriously indeed.”

Steve Dilworth’s website

Robert Macfarlane’s favourite trail

Rhenigidale path

Robert Macfarlane describes his favourite trail in this article here. It goes from the the town of Tarbert to the village of Rhenigidale on the Isle of Harris.

Along the southeastern coast of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides runs one of the most beautiful paths I know: an old green track, only six miles or so long, that joins the town of Tarbert to the village of Rhenigidale. Two summers ago I spent a week walking across Lewis and North Harris, camping in shielings and fishing in lochs as I went, finally reaching Rhenigidale, where I slept in the little white-walled youth hostel.

The next morning, I followed the green track west to Tarbert, contouring first above steep-sided sea coves and then dropping into a glen called Trollamaraig in which a dwarf forest of willow, aspen, honeysuckle and foxglove flourishes. Then it was up, steeply up, zigzagging the east face of a hill called the Scriob until the path eased and led me between two peaks — Trolamal and Beinn Tharsuinn. On that clear day the landscape to my west was wonderfully visible, laid out like 
a map: an intricate weave of moor, crag, scarp and shining lochans. A storm blew in and over, and I walked the final miles along shining tracks 
and under rainbows.

Photo “The Rhenigidale path looking back down the route of ascent.” © Copyright Jimmy Hill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Geograph