Are there any wild places left in our over-populated islands? Robert Macfarlane’s book ‘Wild Places’ shows that there are indeed. In fact they’re everywhere.
What is it that makes wild places so special? Is it their grandeur, remoteness and isolation, like my photo (above) of the Glen Coe area? Or is it the sense of awe and mystery that they stir in us, taking us out of our ‘comfort zones’?
The island of Skellig Michael, nine miles off the coast of South West Ireland, is such a place. In 1910 after a very scary two hour rowing boat ride there, then returning in the mist and darkness, George Bernard Shaw wrote to a friend:
“I tell you the thing does not belong to the world that you or I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world…..I hardly feel real again yet!”
Such places do us much good when we visit. We return to ‘normal’ life all the better for the experience, having been humbled in the presence of these magnificent ageless spaces. As R.S.Thomas noted:
“When you see your own shadow passing over rocks millions of years old it makes you think.”
However, sadly, such wonderful places are under serious threat here, as they are elsewhere.
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed … We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”
― Wallace Stegner, writing in America in 1960.
‘The Wild Places’ by Robert Macfarlane
I’ve recently been reading this widely acclaimed book which tells of Robert’s search for some of the last remaining wild places in these islands. Beginning in Scotland he climbs Ben Hope and visits Cape Wrath in the far north, Rannoch Moor and the Black Cuillin of Skye. Spending nights sleeping wild he experiences something of the atmosphere of each place, as in the deserted glens still marked by their sad memories of the brutal ‘Clearances’ in the early 19th century.
He explores Lock Coruisk, set in the great amphitheatre of the forbidding Cuillin mountains, relics of an old volcano from 60 million years ago. He then climbs the heights to the imposing ‘Inaccessible Pinnacle’. It brings back memories of my standing on the summit of Bruach na frithe looking out over the whole of these black, austere and brooding mountains, the home of eagles, ravens and a sense of timeless stillness. It was an awesome moment that has stayed in my memory ever since. Sadly, I didn’t have a camera then, but to get the wild ‘elemental’ feel of the place look at these photos.
After visiting the atmospheric Burren, at the mid western edge of Ireland, with its rich history and its famous limestone pavements criss-crossed by ‘grykes’, Robert Macfarlane returns southwards. As he does so he readjusts his view of wildness finding that it’s everywhere, and always influenced by the human history of the place. He explores the magic of Orford Ness, the ‘Holloways’ of Dorset, The Essex coastal marshes and more.
The Wind in the Wilderness
Back in his Cambridge beech woods from where his journeys began, Robert re-discovers his own local ‘wild place’. Hearing the sound of the wind in the trees he begins thinking through all the wild places he has visited:
“I imagined the wind moving through all these places and many more like them: places that were separated from one another by roads and housing, fences and shopping centres, street lights and cities, but were joined across space at that time by the wildness in the wind. We are fallen in mostly broken pieces, I thought, but the wild can still return us to ourselves.”
I do hope so too.
If we listen, we too can hear the call of the wild places and respond. One reviewer said “the greatest praise I can give the book is to reveal that I have bought a pair of walking boots.” Perhaps we should all buy a pair ourselves!
A wonderfully rich world waits our exploration. Long live our wild places!
Thank you for journeying with me.
How well do you know your favourite ‘wild places’?