Books: English Landscape

Following up on my earlier post about why I love books about the British landscape so much, I thought I would share some of the favorite books in my collection. I’ve included a short description about each item in case you’re interested in adding it to your home as well!

Potter, Beatrix. Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales. London: Frederick Warne, 2006. The book that started it all. These stories are a wonderful tribute to the Lake District, as was Potter’s life itself. Potter purchased a number of farms in the Lake District and became a well-respected Herwick sheep breeder.

Herriot, James. All Creatures Great and Small. St. Louis: Turtleback Books, 2014. One of a number of books by the prolific author and veterinarian. His stories of waking up in the dark, early hours of winter to birth a cow will make you grateful for the warmth of your bed. Herriot is incredible at capturing the dialect and character of the residents of the Yorkshire Dales.

Milne, A.A.; Shepard, Ernest H (Illustrations). The House at Pooh Corner. London: Egmont, 2016. My favorite of the Winnie-the-Pooh series, where we meet Tigger. Here the game of Poohsticks is invented, which I was thrilled to learn is annually featured in the World Poohsticks Championships on the Thames. A beautiful depiction of the woods of East Sussex, with spots you can visit today in Ashdown Forest (including Pooh Bridge where the game Poohsticks was invented). Though I read this book as a child, I recently purchased a newer version to add to my collection.

Hudson, William Henry. A Shepherd’s Life. London: Carruthers Press, 2007. Hudson’s experiences with shepherds primarily of the Wiltshire downs. Beautiful prose and, most importantly, a portrayal of nineteenth century agriculture that accurately depicts its harshness and the tenacity of its farmers.

Rebanks, James. The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape. New York: Flatiron Books, 2015. A book inspired by the previous title on this list. A charming and honest memoir that recounts Rebanks’ life as a farmer of sheep in the Lake District. I loved learning about the intricacies of sheep farming—I am still in awe of phenomenon of hefting, for example—and about Rebanks’ devotion to an otherwise disappearing way of life.

Macfarlane, Robert. Landmarks. London: Penguin, 2015. One of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have come across. The book is a dedication to language, in particular the language used to describe British landscapes. The end of every chapter contains a list of words in local dialects for items of nature: mud described as muxy rout, ice described as pipkrares. His book is like reading several hundred pages of poetry.

Baker, J.A. The Peregrine. New York: New York Review Book Classics, 2004. Baker’s observations of a pair of peregrine falcons near Chelmsworth. His powerful descriptions give way to obsession, and he begins to take on characteristics of his falcon pair. A wonderfully original use of language in describing the movements of these birds.

Shepherd, Nan. The Living Mountain. Edinburgh: Canongate UK, 2011. A classic description of the Cairngorms of Scotland. A short but powerful book that examines each attribute of this mountain range—the light, its colors, its transformation after snow.

Deakin, Roger. Waterlog. London: Vintage Books, 2000. What an intriguing premise of a book. Deakin endeavors to swim his way across the British Isles. His writing is full of humor and incorporates the lives and personalities of the inhabitants of England. It may inspire you to take up swimming (with a wetsuit, that is).

Kanigel, Robert. On an Irish Island: The Lost World of the Great Blasket. New York: Vintage, 2013. I found a used copy of this book at a small independent book seller in West Virginia. Kanigel examines the relationship of the people of the Blasket Islands with the linguists who came there to learn Irish in its purest form.

Cocker, Mark. Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet. London: Jonathan Cape, 2015. Set in Norfolk, Claxton describes the countryside with exquisite detail. I still think of his description of the sound a grasshopper makes whenever I hear it: like “some busy gnome working a tiny pair of bellows.”

Lewis-Stempel, John. Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field.London: Black Swan, 2015. The first of Lewis-Stempel’s books that I read. He devotes a chapter to each month of the calendar, recording the changes he witnesses in a single meadow near his home. It will inspire you to view every small piece of land differently and to realize the abundance of life and its details that are visible to those who look for them.

Lewis-Stempel, John. The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland. Rearsby, Leicester: WF Howes Ltd, 2016. Another of Lewis-Stempel’s works. A powerful description of the threats to the wild animals of English ploughland and how one man’s care-filled husbandry can nurture a piece of land back to health.

Deakin, Roger. Notes From Walnut Tree Farm. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2009. A delight of a book. These are a series of writings published after Deakin’s death, obtained from his daily diary. His book is an annotated bibliography in and of itself. “People ask how a writer connects with the land. The answer is through work.” This certainly held true for Deakin.

Cowen, Rob. Common Ground. London: Windmill Books, 2016. A concept similar to Lewis-Stempel’s Meadowland, with a description of the events that occur on a small piece of land. Viewed here, though, through the eyes of an author new to the lands of Yorkshire after departing from his London home. The cover artwork is also a lovely tribute to Watership Down.

Wright, John. A Natural History of the Hedgerow. London: Profile Books Ltd, 2016. An exceptional look at the history and impact of hedgerows in England. You will never look at these rich constructs the same again.

Harrison, Melissa. Rain: Four Walks in English Weather. London: Faber & Faber, 2016. Harrison recounts four rain showers in four separate locations and seasons across England. A humorous, joyful description of rain’s life-giving properties and of its impact on British landscape and culture.

Stewart, Rory. The Marches: A Borderland Journey Between England and Scotland. New York: Mariner Books, 2017. Stewart turns from earlier works describing walks across Afghanistan to the terrain of the borderlands of England and Scotland. We meet Stewart’s elderly father and the book traces the relationship between father and son over the years.

Fox, Robin Lane. Thoughtful Gardening: Great Plants Great Gardens. London: Penguin Books, 2013. A more practical look at the art of English gardening. I do not know if I ultimately agree with Fox’s approach to gardening—he resists the concept of gardening as returning to “wildflower meadows” or creating safe spaces for wildlife—but his approaches to cultivating a top garden are certainly intriguing.

McCarthy, Michael. The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy. New York: New York Review Books, 2016. Though many of the books I have collected address the topic of destruction of the natural world, McCarthy’s book takes a more explicit approach to propose a potential solution to this deterioration. In particular, he asks each of us to experience nature with love and wonder.

Conran, Jasper. Country. London: Conran Octopus, 2012. This is a collection of stories and photographs of the English countryside. It captures the atmosphere of rural life and the men and women who call it their home. A beautiful book that I cherish.

Pavord, Anna. Landskipping: Painters, Ploughmen and Places. London: Bloomsbury, 2016. This book covers many of the territories featured in my other books, but I love how she addresses the history, art, and literature embedded within each location.

Matless, David. Landscape and Englishness. London: Reaktion Books, 2016. The title says it all. This book discusses how English landscapes, both rural and urban, have shaped history, class divisions, and the English identity itself. Matless uses a diverse set of sources to inform his book and covers a large swath of history.

Wainwright, Alfred. A Coast to Coast Walk: Revised Edition, (Wainwright Pictorial Guides). London: Frances Lincoln, revised ed. 2003. Wainwright’s famous work describing the footpath created by the author himself. In The Shepherd’s Life, Rebanks pokes fun at the hiking urbanites wandering through his fields with this book in their back pocket. A must as I plan my trip with my father.



Looking out over the fields near Hidcote

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