Jo Mortimer

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Five Nature Writing Must-Reads

Ring of Bright Water - Gavin Maxwell (1960). In 1956, Maxwell journeyed to the Tigris Basin and was given an otter cub, Mijbil. He brought him back to Britain and they lived together on Sandaig, on the West Highland waterboard. Maxwell's eccentricities and complex life were of no concern to Mij, and Maxwell remained 'otterly enthralled'. Enthralled is the word - this is an absolute joy of a book and a timeless classic.


The Wild Places - Robert Macfarlane (2007). Finding wild places is no easy undertaking. Macfarlane sets out to create a map that identifies and highlights not motorways, service stations or a rat-run B-road, but sites of history and natural splendour. Whilst our connection to wildlife and nature may be considered fractured, halted and broken, there's plenty to feel good about. Macfarlane reminds us that all we need do tune in and realign.

Six Facets of Light - Ann Wroe (2016). This book has it all. More than simply a series of meditations on light, Wroe explores the South Downs whilst channeling the likes of that great Sussex hero Ravilious, Wordsworth, Walt Whitman and many other (for the most part) men. Wroe made fine use of her notebooks whilst walking the coast and the Way, devoted as she is to detail. She moves beyond the now, breaking free of the edges and striding into the light. Mesmerising.

The Land of Little Rain - Mary Austin (1903). Austin takes us into the deserts of eastern California, her home beyond the ranges of Death Valley. Owens Valley was the setting for one of the California Water Wars. The aqueduct diverted water from the Owens River to Los Angeles, which had a devastating impact on the ecosystem and agriculture. The poetic prose of these vignettes bring us close to the characters, flora and fauna of the home she sought to protect.

Oak and Ash and Thorn - Peter Fiennes (2017). Almost half of all UK woodland that is more than 400 years old has been lost in the past 80 years. Fiennes tracks our historical relationship with trees, woods and forests by blending natural history, mythology and memory. Most importantly, he delivers a call to action. Our trees need us. We need the trees. Yes, it's a situation that could leave us muttering lamentations for the trees we once kissed under and climbed, but after reading this you will feel that there's all to play for and the game starts now.

Jo Mortimer