Category Archives: Nature writing

The inaudible calls of the wild

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My latest Wild Frontier column for Prospect deals with the ultrasonic, infrasonic, ultraviolet and pheromonal messages being broadcast inaudibly and invisibly around us by other species all the time. It was prompted by a lovely evening playing a moth whispering with a pheromone lure. Full text can found on the Prospect site here, or after the fold.

This issue, I also contributed a short review of Jon Day’s new book Homing, a memoir about pigeon racing and home making: “endlessly interesting and dazzlingly erudite.” I really loved it. Find the review online here, or at the foot of this post.

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Country diary: an explosive atmosphere

Another short scenic snippet for the Guardian’s lovely Country Diary, which I love contributing to. Here’s a small scene from the Ardeer peninsula in Ayrshire – a former explosives works turned wild.

I visited Ardeer with local campaigners seeking to keep it wild; plans to develop the region were released several years ago, but are facing much resistance from environmentalists. Due to an legal quirk dating from its use as a factory, no planning permission is required to build on the site – and having it declared an SSSI is currently impossible for the same reason. But maybe this can change. (If you’d like more information on that campaign, please look out for my next Scottish Field column.)

Full text on the Guardian site here, or after the fold: Continue reading

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The Wild Frontier #9: Foraging in spring

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My latest Wild Frontier column for Prospect magazine acts as a beginner’s guide to foraging in spring, a time known formerly as the ‘hungry gap’ – when winter root vegetables were going soft or sprouting, but before fresh crops were ready to be harvested. (They couldn’t have picked a worse time to be threatening a no-deal Brexit, and ‘living off our own land,’ in other words.)

Full text can be found on the Prospect website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Guardian Country Diary: Cairn Gorm in winter

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I recently made another contribution to The Guardian’s Country Diary. I love writing for this small regular feature, which publishes snippets of seasonal nature writing from around the UK daily.

It can be found on the Guardian website here, or (in a slightly longer form) after the break: Continue reading

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The Wild Frontier #8: The writer’s cabin

My latest column for Prospect magazine is out now: it’s about my time at MacDowell, and about the habit of writers retreating into the woods more generally. The column beautifully illustrated (as ever) by the brilliant Kate Hazell.

The exterior was clad with overlapping sheets of hemlock bark. Smoke rose in a curl from the chimney and dissipated among the thin pines. Inside, a fire crackled and spat, and my narrow bed nestled alongside a desk, a bookshelf and little else.

Find it online on the Prospect site here, or after the fold.

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The Wild Frontier #7: Planting for the future

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My latest column for Prospect is all about the tree-planting project I’ve been helping with in Torridon (see above) – and how it made us all think about the future and our legacies in new ways.

It felt a significant moment. But as with all moments it had to pass. In the north, winter days are short and twilight was already slinking in around us. Nothing for it but to dig and plant, dig and plant, and do all we could do before dark.

As ever, full text is available on the Prospect site here, or after the fold.

I’ve also written them a brief review of Charlotte Runcie’s debut book, Salt on your Tongue, which is out now from Canongate. It’s also in the April issue; find it online here.

Update: my friend’s had her baby! Isn’t it wonderful?!

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The Wild Frontier #6: Starry, starry night

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My latest column for Prospect looks at the joys (and disappointments) of stargazing – and why the most moving celestial experiences are usually unplanned ones.

Other times there was no particular astronomic spectacle to see—only a cloudless sky and the right frame of mind. Every night, overhead, there are a thousand run-of-the-mill marvels. Look up, and find the firmament aglitter with ametrine stars. The Milky Way billowing a trail through the sky. The smooth, unstoppable sweep of satellites—manmade but no less incredible to me.

Find the full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Scottish Field: Wildlife through the seasons

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I continue to write a monthly wildlife column for the glossy lifestyle monthly Scottish Field. So far I’ve covered subjects as varied as seal pupping season, moths, starling murmurations and raven culls.

There was a liquid quality to the flock, its edges curving and irregular yet clearly defined. All the time smaller flights were being attracted into the larger body, or – when it stretched out thinly – breaking off as droplets, and swooping away only to return minute later. The collective took on its own personality, sweeping overhead in a breathy whisper then making a handbrake turn to swing out over the road, where it seemed to hang for a moment, pulsating.

They’re not available online, so find the text of some of the latest articles after the fold.

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The Wild Frontier #5: A world of illusions

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My latest column for Prospect magazine deals with whiteouts, polar mirages and icy illusions. Find the full text on the Prospect site here, or after the fold.

Under normal conditions, human perception works so well as to render its workings invisible to us. But in certain circumstances—extreme weather conditions or extraordinary places—we push beyond its limits, sliding into a world of illusions as our brain struggles to make sense of its surroundings.

The photo above was taken by me somewhere near the summit of Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, which would normally look something like this.

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The Wild Frontier #4: Cold, cold water

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I’m back in Prospect magazine, and warming to my wintery theme with a piece on the pleasures of wild swimming in winter. This year I’m trying to keep it up all the way through. It gets easier, as your body adapts to the physical shock of it – that is, if you go once a week or so. Wish me luck.

Then, among the waterfowl, the changing of the guard. On winter’s approach, in came the chestnut-headed wigeons and pochards, the tufted ducks with their slicked-back quiffs and walleyed stares. A regular swimmer can mark off the months by the company they keep.

Full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold. Ably illustrated by the superlative Kate Hazell, whose portfolio can be discovered here.

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