Saturday, 7 March 2015

First look at 'Landmarks'....

An initial ‘review’ of a book I've been looking forward to for some time...

Robert MacFarlane’s books have appeared on this blog regularly since it started, and featured in numerous teacher CPD sessions, and lessons with my students.

I’ve been looking forward to the latest book as it continues the exploration of landscape and the way that it is described in words that was a feature of previous books.
Regular readers will know that I used ‘The Old Ways’ and ‘The Living Mountain’ as a way of exploring the Cairngorms and developing mapskills using Digimap for Schools at the SAGT Conference a few years ago. I’ve also referenced books such as ‘Mountains of the Mind’ in my KS3 landscapes toolkit book ‘Look at it this Way’.

Landmarks starts by explaining that it is a book about “the power of language…. to shape our sense of place”.
Chapters on different types of ‘lands’ are interspersed with entries from what is called the ‘word hoard’: a collection of dialect words for landscape features, or for ephemeral relationships between the landscape and weather conditions or other external factors. Some are familiar, many are not, and make you want to go and seek them out.

As I’ve read the book, I’ve made many connections with my own travelling and reading over the years.

1.     The removal of nature words from the Oxford dictionary and their ‘replacement’ with technology words – mentioned this a few weeks ago, and it connects with our work to get young people outside through Mission:Explore.

2.     The influence of Barry Lopez. I first read ‘Arctic Dreams’ in 1987, ten years before Robert came across him while in Canada (I was in Hull at the time) – I agree that he is the greatest nature writer, and he also mentions the book that Lopez edited called ‘Home Ground: language for an American landscape’, which is a great book. I’ve read everything Lopez has published and he never disappoints. I used one section as an influence for a book I wrote a few years ago, and he also comes into my current writing.

3.     A mention for Tim Robinson’s incredible explorations in miniature of the islands off the coast of Ireland – another sequence I explored many years ago., after returning from visiting the area

4.     A mention for Jaquetta Hawke’s ‘The Land’ which was something I used in my teaching back in the 1990s. This is a book unlike any other…

5.     Homage paid to Hugh Miller for helping him to get ‘trilobite sight’ and understand geological time and how it changed the landscape. Last summer I was involved in preparing resources for, and building the website and social media surrounding a recreation of Hugh Miller’s voyage in ‘The Betsey’. A 2nd voyage is planned for the summer of 2015, continuing the journey that Miller made

6.     The glossary is full of books I read as a child or young adult, when I devoured books about landscapes and climbing. MacFarlane is describing, very often, my own experiences with those books, but he has the skill to articulate what I never did… These include the books of ‘BB’, Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ sequence (still one of my very favourite books), Ronald Blythe, Roger Deakin, Tim Dee and the late Oliver Rackham.

All of these books sit on my shelves right now, and I look forward to having time to reacquaint myself with them.

7.     Another mention of course for John Muir, and our special John Muir trust version of Mission:Explore has had over 200 000 ‘views’ apparently we heard this week.

8.     Images are missing from the book – perhaps deliberately when it is a book about words, but I can see the landscapes that are mentioned, almost all of which I’ve also visited in my head, and also have pictures of them. Some of those I submitted to the OS PhotoFit competition. What better feeling would there be to see one of your own images on an Ordnance Survey map for thousands to buy and hold in their hand as they explore that part of Britain?

There are too many wonderful moments and vignettes to capture here, and I recommend that you get hold of a copy. I may well add the occasional ‘Landscape word of the day’ here for a while to keep the connection back to the book…


I am going to be seeing Robert talk about the book next week at the University of East Anglia, and will be adding my notes and observations from that next week.

Finally, in today's Guardian, I loved this cartoon by Tom Gauld which affectionately parodies the word-hoard to provide some additions, in the style of another old favourite of mine, from over 30 years ago now, and co-written by Douglas Adams: 'The Meaning of Liff'....

My current view from the window includes what Suffolk residents would call a grout...

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