Robert Macfarlane’s singular talent as a ‘nature writer’ is to combine intellectual rigour, thematic clarity and structure, and leaven these with experiential, personal narratives. His books are philosophical in foundation and scholarly in their scrupulous, generous acknowledgement of sources and influences – things that many writers, for reasons of ego or insecurity, prefer to obscure. The Old Ways, Macfarlane’s previous book, was characteristically both celebration and extended examination of walking and walkways, with glances at the life and works of Edward Thomas. Its narrative episodes contain some of the finest and most haunting writing of his I have read; the opening, in which he impulsively leaves his house to walk through a snowbound landscape, following the moonlit Ridgeway, has stayed with me.
The first chapter of Landmarks, ‘The Word-Hoard’, sets out its stall: ‘This is a book about the power of language – strong style, simple words – to shape our sense of place.’ It is also about the writers who have shaped Macfarlane’s sense of the possibilities of nature writing. Some