In search of the best book on the British countryside

There’s been surprisingly little coverage of the short list for the new Thwaites Wainwright Prize, released last week. The £5,000 prize, designed to celebrate the best of nature- and travel writing about Britain, was set up last November by Frances Lincoln (publisher of the walker Alfred Wainwright’s books) and the Wainwright Society, in association with the National Trust, and is sponsored by Thwaites, the brewer.

The  organisers’ website says that books can be narrative or illustrative “but must be focussed [sic] on the British countryside”. That stipulation could lead to a few arguments in advance of the prize-giving on May 8. One title on the short list is Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways (my favourite non-fiction book of 2012), in which he tramps paths not only through the chalk-lands of England and the islands of the Scottish north-west but also through Spain, Palestine and the Himalayas.

The other books are:

Walking Home by Simon Armitage (Faber)
Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham (Granta)
Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins (Jonathan Cape)
The Green Road into the Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thomson (Windmill/Random House)
Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary by Esther Woolfson (Granta).

You can read an extract from each of the books on the Thwaites Wainwright Prize site.

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