The latest entry from my ‘Wild Frontier’ column in Prospect magazine. It’s about a solitary night on an abandoned island, and what it means to be truly alone. Full text here, or after the fold.
I recently moved to Orkney with my partner Richard, where he has been posted as a probationary teacher. At times like this I am reminded what a wonderful privilege it is to be self-employed – and able to up sticks easily, and work from such a beautiful and remote location. (Although it doesn’t feel at all remote, once one is actually here.)
I wrote about moving house – and how the task of packing up my belongings made me think rather wistfully of our six weeks living the ultralight lifestyle on the Colorado Trail – for Prospect, in my latest ‘Wild Frontier’ column. (Text can be found online here, or after the fold.)
I also had a nice surprise when my first Country Diary entry for The Guardian from Orkney was an unexpected hit, racking up more than 30,000 readers in its first few hours online (quite unusual for this section, which features gentle snippets of nature writing). It dealt with the arrival of stoats on the archipelago, and why conservationists believe that might be disastrous for the ground-nesting birds that live here. (Full text can be found here, or after the fold.)
Eradication and ‘population management’ of wildlife prompts important ethical questions in environmental circles – ones I have touched on in more length in the context of red deer culls (for Granta and The Guardian’s long-read section) and in a discussion of our instinctive dislike of ‘invasive’ non-native species (for the New Humanist). So, why not read more?
I contributed a long article to the summer issue of Prospect, about wilderness therapy and the impact of nature upon mental health and the treatment of mental illness. In it, I profile the work of Scottish charity Venture Mòr, an amazing organisation led by outdoor instructors turned counsellors, which has been working to bring the field of ‘wilderness therapy’ to a wider audience in the UK.
Full text can be found on the Prospect website here,
My latest column in Prospect magazine is all about ditching the tent and the bulky equipment and sleeping under the stars. A bivvy bag is helpful if you want a little bit of protection from the weather – but remember why you’re outside in the first place. The photo above is from an idyllic night we spent on the cliff’s edge near Skaill, Orkney, having taken some inspiration from the brilliant Alistair Humphreys.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.