Review: Lakeland: Walking With Wildlife, by Alan Gane

On of the great things about hillwalking is that it is often the perfect occupation for melding with other hobbies, photography particularly comes to mind here. Perhaps, understandably a love of the great outdoors, of walking the heights, is most often combined with a love of the wider natural environment, of geology and geography and, of course, wildlife.

Alan Gane is a hillwalker who having retired as an agricultural researcher has spent “much of his time fell-walking, watching and photographing wildlife and giving talks on the subject …” Gane was a partner in UNICEF and his knowledgeable and scientific commitment to the natural world is very much on evidence here.

 

Gane describes his book as jottings. Well, I like a bit of humility now and then but what we have here is more than  a series of jottings. Essentially, we have a series of short and well-written ‘portraits’ of walks and landscapes, in which wildlife and the natural environment are at the near.

For example, an essay on Loweswater starts with a walk along the shore, then stepping into woodland and walking into thicker forest. the wood is home to red squirrels (most active and visible during the early part of the day). The wood also has “a good range of birds”. Buzzards drift from the trees and float over the water. At the waterside water lobelia grows along with the white water lily “.. whose beautiful flowers rise and expand as the sun gains strength and close again with the approach of evening”. Climb up to the Coffin route and we are helped to appreciate the extraordinary variety of trees here, mountain ash, ancient oaks, silver birch, scots pine.

Other essays focus not on particular places but on important subjects such as survival. For some midwinter is bleak but for game there is always something of interest to see and always “a sign that spring is on the way”. He shares his amazement of how small birds manage to survive the cold, the wet and the wind. He tells us how one birds _ such as wrens — on forces for warmth and protection.

Everything you could want to know about is here, the wildlife of the pond, essays on beautiful lanes, on high ridges and on rocky crags and windswept place.

This is a learned book, full of learning and information and yet it is never anything but a joy to read. It is an ideal book to dip in and out of. It helps connect with the outdoors on the horrible winter days when you are stuck indoors. It inspires you to get out in all weathers and, most importantly, I think, it inspires you to observe, to look and seek out for knowledge and information of the landscape and the natural world.

I don’t spend much time in the Lakes which is a real shame, especially now that I have this book. As a constant companion this would add so much more to my walking. Heading out to Ennerdale, up to Kirk Fell, Pillar or Haweswater? Well, thesis book to browse in advance and to consult on your return. And by way of a bonus the book is also illustrated with atmospheric photographs and poetry.

You can tell that I like this book. I’ve only just scratched the surface, opening at random and diving in. But however you approach the writing here you will be emerging yourself in a series of wonderful and concise essays.

Game’s writing is brief, even sparse at times. There is no section that demands great study or effort. Reading this is a breeze and a joy. Pick this up and you will treated by little gem after little gem.

I’ve written before that one of my greatest regrets is that I don’t know anywhere enough about the wildlife, the flora and fauna of the land that I’m hiking through. A book like ‘Walking with Wildlife” really does begin to fill the gap.

I can do no better than to end with the words of the author:

The benefits of fell-walking are many. they include the physical exercise, the blissful lack of man-made noise, the silence and the solitude which so replenish the mind, the wild flowers and the birds and, of course, the grandeur of the mountains in ever-changing light.

I sincerely hope that the jottings will bring back happy memories to many readers and that they may inspire others, as yet unfair wit this glorious corner of England, to explore and adventure here, and to savour its countless delights.

Well, if these reflect Alan Gane’s aims in writing this book, well, I can tell you he has succeeded and succeeded magnificently.

If you are regular lakeland walker, this is one volume that you will certainly want in your collection.

 

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