Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yet more moor

From Tuchenn Gador
I've been looking back at my life to trace the history of my profound attachment to landscape. This background may or may not figure finally in the new book I'm working on, but here's an extract anyway:

There were early travels over the Brecon Beacons, as my poor exiled Welsh parents, miserable in manicured and over-managed Gloucestershire countryside, often made the return to their homelands - Swansea, Mumbles, Gower - with four children in tow. It was part of my father's sad, hopeless quest for a reassuring identity and a crucial building block in my own first passionate attachment to landscape.

The sight of those moors we passed made me happy, and when I walk now on the heaths of the Monts d’Arrée in Brittany I am connected each time with that childhood self in the rekindling of a deeply stirring feeling of boundless freedom. I know better now that the apparent simplicity of the moors is an illusion, but it seemed of high value then. Other landscapes were psychologically more complex to me even as a small child: the sea with its tides, the changing shape of a river, the uncertainties of woodland, hills lost to the unsettling exploitation of farming. But those long, high rounded slopes, empty of life and difficulty, solid and unchanging, gave me both a powerful sense of permanence and an invitation to limitless possibilities, to the open heart and mind that seemed so perplexingly elusive in the constraints and compromises of the everyday world. I came to learn that there was far less isolation and considerably more connection for me in the wilderness of moor than in family life.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Prepositions of place

I’m really looking forward to this new year. My work will concentrate on local landscape – natural and built - and how it comes to shape and absorb us, offering a relatively stable network of emotional connection in an uncertain world. This is forged by the heightened experience of being inside and within one’s environment, a participant rather an objective observer. I’m also increasingly interested in why certain places exert a hold whilst others with similar elements do not, and how somewhere with no specific historical significance or enhancement through legend can still generate a remarkable atmosphere and make its mark on all who pass by or through it.

Prepositions of place may well turn out to be the title of the book.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Yuletide

Good wishes for the festive season to all my kind readers and followers, with thanks for all the great support and lovely messages during 2015, even though I've had no new book out in the last year. I'm still getting letters about Moon Garden (from 2004)! There will be two new books in 2016, Walks in Finistère and 'the landscape one'. Happy holidays, one and all.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


One response to stomping globalization and recent atrocities of all kinds could be a return to close acquaintance with local environment, a pulling back into the beautiful diversity of small-scale observation and appreciation. Less talking and watching, more seeing and noticing. Getting to know the world in our immediate vicinity does more than enhance real as opposed to superficial knowledge and understanding: it offers a sense of purposeful belonging. It gives a multi-layered quality to everyday life that can satisfy restless yearning for 'meaning' or the transient excitement of novelty. And it's an infinite exercise, an exploration that will occupy even a long lifetime. Connection with our own land is connection with our own lost selves.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

End of a very long walk

Fort de Berthaume
Finishing up the walking book routes, only just behind schedule. Now it will be a relief to sit down at my desk and finish all the texts. I ended up covering more ground than intended and more routes than will probably fit in the designated number of pages, but better too many than not enough at this stage. Very pleased to rewalk this last section, a linear route from Le Conquet to Plougonvelin. It's one of my favourites and a piece of coast I'll never tire of, even though high gusting winds on the cliffs this time made me cautious. Ended up at this magnificent fort in bright weather. Glad that my back-up was waiting with a car, but for those less fortunate and not on expenses, there's a bus back to the starting point if retracing all those kilometres is just too much to contemplate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My heart lies in the forest

After recent events in Paris, one of the few memorable reactions on my Twitter feed was from a woman bewildered and feeling the cold shock of a secure hold on daily life slipping away. I cling to my land, she said. I don't know if she meant it literally or metphorically but it brings up once again the question of landscape as comfort and stability. It is the familiarity of 'one's own' physical territory that offers a sense of consistency that can be relied upon in a world that is changing alarmingly before our aging eyes. Those of us who believed our generation would at least never see another world war begin to doubt that flimsy hope, as layer upon layer of hatred, intolerance and misconception flattens and stunts the potential of  humanity.
The rate of change in landscape can be as rapid as a fallen building, or as gradual as the creeping threat of floods with climate change, but we like to feel it remote in our immediate surroundings, at the millenia speed of eroding granite.We have been startled in Brittany to discover last week that the state is to sell off some of our forests, those symbols of life before human settlement, of the longevity that spawns legends. Forests that were once noisy places of human abode and economic activity are now mostly silent and dressed in recreational attire of finger-posts and picnic tables. Is this an identity to be perpetuated for the sake of our need to believe nature is all around us and that we are still alive in some meaningful way? Do we need forests? Of course we do. I clung to my land this week with gratitude.