Tag Archives: Prospect

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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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 #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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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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The Wild Frontier #3: Winter’s Approach

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My third column for Prospect is now out on newsstands. It talks about the wonders of winter, and why we shouldn’t dread the coldest months. It’s no secret that I love snow and ice and frost and everything that goes with it (see my previous diaries of working at a husky kennels in Finland back in 2012/13); it’s always a surprise to me to find that I’m in the minority.

At noon on the very darkest days, the red sun still cast its rays into the very lowest reaches of the sky, washing it in blood and burgundy. In the twilit hours on either side, the snow shone blue and brighter than the sky, and the bare and stunted pines, candied with hoar frost, stood out black against it. It’s difficult to grieve the loss of the day if the night is so beautiful.

Give winter another chance! Here’s why.

Full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold.

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The Wild Frontier #2: Fighting your fears

My second Prospect column is out now – again, beautifully illustrated by the wonderful Kate Hazell (hire her!). It’s about sleeping alone in the woods, and facing the things that go bump in the night.

I lifted myself on to the mattress and slid the axe carefully into the gap between mattress and roof, above my pillow…I dared not imagine the sort of desperate, protracted battle in which a splitting axe might come in useful overnight. But the suggestion of it suffused the cabin anyway

Text can be found on the Prospect website here, or after the fold.

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Prospect: Twisted firestarter

The first of my monthly columns has appeared in Prospect magazine – the series is called ‘The Wild Frontier’ and will deal with all aspects of nature, wilderness and outdoor living. The brilliant Kate Hazell is producing a sequence of accompanying illustrations.

Full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold.

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Recently: Wellcome Collection and new columns

I’ve had my head down working on long term projects recently, but I was pleased to see my six-part series on the history of the National Health Service to mark its 70th anniversary go live over on the Wellcome Collection’s website; for it, I spoke to patients, NHS workers and historians about the service’s germination and evolution. The NHS is not perfect, but surveys repeatedly find that our health service is our biggest source of national pride, ahead of the BBC and the royal family.

(It’s a subject close to my heart. I’ve already written about my own experiences of disability, and of my extensive leg-lengthening treatments under the NHS for The Sunday Times Magazine – find that essay here.)

I was also pleased to begin writing two monthly columns; one for Prospect magazine, on ‘backcountry philosophy’ – that is, life lessons from the wilderness; and a regular wildlife slot for Scottish Field.

My first Prospect column will be out shortly, while my second Scottish Field outing is already on newsstands. So far I’ve covered the basking sharks of the Inner Hebrides and the seabird colonies of the Isle of May.

Every species takes up a place in the strata of life, a multi-storey settlement that rises vertically from the waves….the razorbills with their snubnosed beaks – gnomish and oddly proportioned, squat like penguins but with the delicate wings of terns…Then the sleek guillemots in their evening wear: silken black-brown heads set apart from starched-white breasts by their sweetheart necklines…

Columns on raven culls and mountain hares are coming soon.

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The language of twilight?

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For the past few years I’ve been making on-again, off-again attempts to learn Scottish Gaelic, a language that was spoken in my family until a couple of generations ago. It’s a difficult language to learn, and the Gaelic-community of Scotland is billingual – they all speak English already. So why do I try? The answer is, it’s complicated.

When we lose a language we may also lose the ability to describe the landscape it lives in. The land becomes less readily characterised, less gradated, more difficult to read. And so do we: what it means to be a Highlander, for example, becomes diffuse when there is no language to mark you apart.

I explored my desire to learn Gaelic – and attempted to untangle my, and my country’s, strange relationship to the language for Prospect magazine this month. The full text is online here (outside of the paywall), and after the fold.  Continue reading

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