As a bibliophile I find myself defenseless against the power of books. Useless against the allure of the new, I have frequently spent the last of my wages on books and would more than likely do so again, if given half the chance. In many cases books have become a substitute for meals and so whilst the cupboards might be bare, the bookshelves are overflowing. It seems only right then, that some of my favourites should get a mention of their own.
Over the past few years I have been trying to build up a collection of first and rare editions of some of the older texts that I’ve used in the research for my thesis. I felt like I should share some of my more interesting finds here; they aren’t all firsts and some of them aren’t even particularly rare, but each book offers a rich discussion on our engagement with landscape, on nature-culture relations and on the dynamy of place.
I would highly recommend Watkins’ work in particular, to anyone wishing to pursue alternative forms of engaging with the landscape. Watkins’ leylines offer a unique method for walking and seeing the historical environment and as such throws up a number of interesting questions about how we map and move through our surroundings. Belloc’s The Old Road is, as with Watkins, a exposition of ancient trackways, a sort of speculative, quasi-archaeological account of pilgrim paths, again written within a highly detailed, clearly articulated yet poetic approach that evokes a sense of wonder. I would view Hudson’s writings in much the same way; Hudson offers beautifully descriptive accounts of the English countryside in a very precise yet accessible style. The level of detail present is meticulous. Hudson works his ideas through in highly crafted narratives that leave the reader with a real sense of place. Adopting a style that comfortably straddles the chasm between anthropological study and the new naturalist writings of the early twentieth century, Hudson provides us with a generous topology, replete with sensual encounters, memories and moreover, vitality.
Memory and encounters are two themes that are further explored in the B. Bond and Underwood texts; though these belong to a more arcane genealogy than either Hudson or Watkins, each of the authors posits a link between placial experientialism and a wider topographical knowledge. For Underwood this forms part of a deeper archaeological understanding of Stone Henge through dowsing practices, for B. Bond, though still within the remit of a fringe archeology, the focus is on place based spirits; gaining knowledge of the land through its revenant occupants.
Mabey attempts to pick up where writers such as Hudson left off. Along with Deakin, MacFarlane et al, Mabey narrates across a sort of ruralised (sub)urban landscape where ubiquitous habitus is threaded through naturalist accounts of peripheral wildlife. Together with various other writers of the ilk (Sinclair, Papadimitriou etc), Mabey has developed a ground for the exploration of an urban undercurrent that is premised as much upon marginalized nature as it is the psychogeographic. Not that one would accuse Mabey of wading the same stagnant waters as the psychogeographic crowd, but there is a strong sense of wandering, of the affective nature of these vital enclaves that runs throughout his writing, that same sort of privileged knowledge which pervades the works of those who hold some esoteric understanding of the ‘hidden city’.
Hoskins ponders man’s effects on the development of the English settlement and countryside, examining the archaeological and historical frameworks that support them in what is essentially a cultural history of our landscape.
I have little to say of the Wainwright Sketchbook, other than as with all his works, the sense of a deep love for the place of study permeates each and every page of the text. Wainwright always said that he felt that he belonged in the Lake District and as any of his readers will confirm, there is testimony to this passion to be found in every offering on the Lakes that Alfred Wainwright has given us. This same sense of a deep belonging runs through each of the seventy five illustrated studies of Wainwright’s favourite Yorkshire haunts.
1. Guy Underwood, The Pattern of the Past, 1968, Museum Press. 1st Edition.