06 May Great Books For Walkers And Nature Lovers
6 Favourite Books For Walkers From My Bookshelf
I’ve separated them into two categories: the practical and the inspiring. The practical books for walkers are ’dip-in-able’ editions, perfect for when you just want to check something out.
The books for walkers and nature lovers in the inspiring list are my favourite genre. They’re usually passionate accounts of the author’s discoveries, thoughts, histories, stories… and are likely to come under the category of ‘nature-writing’. Always beautifully written and powerfully evocative of the landscape, these are the books that make me want to get outside. Let’s start with the practical ones though, because everyone needs a tip or two!
3 of The Best Practical Books For Walkers And Nature Lovers
These three books offer something for walkers of all levels of experience.
Wild Camping, Exploring and Sleeping in the Wild Places of the UK and Ireland.
Stephen Neale (2015)
At the end of a long day’s walk there’s nothing more satisfying than setting up camp in a beautiful landscape and sleeping under the stars. It’s what makes you a hiker. You carry everything you need with you and it makes long distance ‘point to point’ walking a joy.
It’s exhilarating to feel the freedom of sleeping wherever you choose and experience the precious moments a night outside can bring. Neale shows you how, and whether you’re a novice or an old hand this book should be on your shelf.
His style is easy-going and humorous and based on years of experience, but what he does really well is give you the confidence to just get out there and do it. He offers advice on the equipment you need, which is great if you’ve never wild camped before. However, the section that will really wipe away the anxiety is his well researched guide to the the law.
Neale describes where you can legally wild camp across different parts of the UK, including who owns what land, how you can ‘stealth camp’ and how you can get a great night’s sleep in a pub garden. More than a little bit useful!
And last, but definitely not least, is a chapter full of ideas of where to go for an adventure, from Cornwall (yes, Cornwall – we don’t normally get a look in!) to Scotland and a host of different places in between. It’s a great book to thumb through at bedtime, a fun read full of inspirational pictures that will send you to sleep planning your next night out under the stars. If it’s not already on your bedside table, order it now! (Take a look at the 10 Mile Hike Guide to wild camping too!)
The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs
Tristan Gooley (2014)
This is a gem of a reference book. It encompasses everything you don’t need to know about the outdoors, but everything you want to know! You’ll discover subjects as diverse as the art of natural navigation to weather forecasting on the fly.
Gooley encourages you to experience the world around you in a whole new way, notice things, connect them up and make conclusions that will fascinate and inspire you. There are simple things – for example have you noticed how nettle patches only grow where humans have been (a clue that you might be near a village or town)? and more ‘difficult’ things like reading the nuances of cloud formations.
The book’s brimful of information, which I found difficult to absorb in one reading, but it’s laid out in such a way as to make it a perfect reference book.
Why not spend a walk paying attention to the clouds, or another one deciphering the wind to help you navigate? It makes a familiar walk more rewarding and an unfamiliar one a way to test your skills. It’s a really engaging and fascinating read and I highly recommend it:
- The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs (Amazon UK)
Navigation for Walkers, The Definitive Guide to Map Reading
Julian Tippet (2001)
Never go for a walk without a map and compass – and know how to use them! It’s a warning we’ve all read sometime or another. Scary words; enough to put some of us off for life! But learning to map read is really fulfilling, as well as an essential skill for navigating the wild places of the UK. And I can attest that there’s no feeling like the one you get when you navigate your way back to civilisation after wandering aimlessly around fields for hours, or (more importantly) map-reading your way out of bad weather.
This little book is a superb companion to take out with you to refresh your skills or to learn new ones, even to keep on hand ‘just in case’! It’s great for the complete beginner as well as those of us that want (or need) to improve on what we already know.
The latest edition also includes information on using gps (my copy is so ancient it barely gets a mention), but don’t forget the general advice that batteries can fail or you can lose the signal (ever been to Cornwall?!), and that’s when you really need your map reading skills – and this book.
Tippett takes you through the learning process step by step and includes practical exercises for every stage. For example, he encourages you to ‘read the landscape’ using an illustration of an OS map and a corresponding photograph of the area. Lines connect features on the map to that exact feature in the photo and exercises might include identifying features yourself. It’s a brilliant way of learning, especially for visual learners like me.
The book covers everything the hill and lowland walker needs to know from understanding contour lines, reading the landscape and relating it to the map, to using a compass. I wouldn’t be without it:
3 Inspiring Books For Walkers And Nature Lovers: Nature Writing
Nature writing has had a resurgence in recent years, growing hand in hand with conservationism and ecology perhaps, and it’s brought to the fore some inspiring authors that walkers and hikers will really appreciate. Here are 3 of my favourites.
Kathleen Jamie (2005)
In this series of engaging essays Jamie watches peregrine falcons from her kitchen window, explores the carcass of a minke whale on a beach, watches salmon swimming up-stream and listens to the calls of the migratory corncrake...
Once a bird that was common across the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries until so much of its habitat was lost that it’s only found in the Western Isles today. Jamie notices the changes in the environment, from the loss of habitat to the plastic flotsam washed up on beaches, caught in the dunes of uninhabited islands. Findings is like a series of pauses and quiet moments as Jamie stops to listen and observe the natural world; and her thoughts and observations, her sensitivities to the subtleties of natural processes is riveting.
I have a strong affinity to her desire to acquire remnants of life, the skulls of birds, the bones of whales, even going as far as hacking off the head of a dead gannet with a Swiss Army knife (I’ve done this too – although not to a gannet. It was a sparrow hawk (amongst others), dead of course). She describes displaying them on her desk, made by her husband, as I do too (a bureau I designed and my son’s dad made for us), a memento mori. A beautiful and wondrous object in itself.
I love this book not just for the empathy I feel with her response to the landscape and natural history she eloquently describes, but because I realised, all of a sudden it seemed, there are other people out there who explore the world with a thoughtful curiosity and fascination that leads to conversations between disciplines. The poet, the naturalist, the sound-recordist, the artist; there’s a conversation going on that we can all join in.
- Findings (Amazon UK)
H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald (2014)
I found this book incredibly moving. It’s a memoir, a biography of T. H. White, a study in training a hawk, and a beautiful celebration of the countryside and the natural world.
Macdonald’s father dies suddenly and she sinks into a deep depression. She expresses feelings of abject wretchedness with such acuity it’s hard not to experience it with her.
In the depths of mourning Macdonald, an accomplished falconer, decides to train a goshawk, Mabel. Goshawks are the most difficult hawks to train, she tells us, single-minded and murderous.
She shuts herself away alone with Mabel for weeks. Mabel has to be hooded, in the dark like Macdonald. As the hawk becomes trained and flies, so does Macdonald and so does the book.
She reads T. H. White’s The Goshawk (1951), which she first read as a child, comparing her own experience with Mabel to White’s training of Gos. Their accounts are poles apart (though she has much affection for White), White in a battle of wills and Macdonald somehow at one with Mabel. Macdonald’s biography and critical exploration of White is compellingly woven through the book.
It’s riveting. It sticks in the memory like glue and if you haven’t read it, you must:
- H is for Hawk* (Amazon UK)
The Wild Places
Robert Macfarlane (2008)
Macfarlane’s prose is lyrical and exquisitely captures the passion and love I feel for the varied landscapes of the UK. The Wild Places is a search for Britain’s forgotten wild places, overlooked and overshadowed perhaps by the imposing mountainous landscapes of the north, or subsumed by urban sprawl.
Macfarlane's journey takes us through beech woods and forests, holloways and valleys, salt marshes and moors from the south coast to Skye. He sleeps on summits and in blizzards. At times it seems that it’s only the weather that is untamed and truly wild.
But, “the human and the wild cannot be partitioned”, he writes. He walks across a limestone pavement, a ‘geological wildness’ slowly shaped by glaciation and acid water, with his companion Roger Deakin. They peer down into a gryke to observe “the unlikely habitat for cranesbills, avens, ferns, many more I could not identify, growing opportunistically on wind-blown soil…The sense of life was immense”.
Deacon declares it a wild place and I love that, finding the wild in small unobtrusive ‘landscapes’ as well as the sweeping vistas of lonely hills or pathless, deep forests.
Macfarlane seamlessly weaves history, culture, thought and personal account into the The Wild Places, which gives me an atavistic sense of what I am. I feel a sense of what we are and why we need to preserve the wild places still left to us in the UK. Most of all, it makes me want to get outside and experience it all for myself:
- The Wild Places (Amazon UK)
Which Books For Walkers And Nature Lovers Are On Your Bookshelves?
These books for walkers have been on my shelves for a whileHave you got any of these titles on your bookshelves? If you haven’t, I hope I’ve inspired you to give one of them a read; which one would you choose?
Which books for walkers or nature lovers would you recommend? Let us know below!
Happy Hiking (And Reading!)