Land, language and Macfarlane

Robert Macfarlane’s latest book, Landmarks, is due to be published on Thursday by Hamish Hamilton. It’s a celebration and defence of the words we have for the land and what happens on it and in it and to it. It’s an encouragement to add to the “word-hoard” Macfarlane has been amassing for years, and to revel in the poetry that comes with precision.  On the Isle of Lewis, for example, there’s a Gaelic word, èit, for “the practice of placing quartz stones in moorland streams so that they would sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn”.

The book is a celebration, too, of some of Macfarlane’s favourite writers; of those who, in Emerson’s phrase, seek to “pierce rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things”. Among them are JA Baker (author of The Peregrine), Tim Robinson, Roger Deakin and Nan Shepherd. Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, Macfarlane says, transformed his perception of the Cairngorms, and taught him to “see these familiar hills, rather than just to look at them”.

Macfarlane introduced Landmarks with a cover piece in the Review section of The Guardian at the weekend. A film he presented about Shepherd and the Cairngorms, first screened last December, can still be seen on the BBC iPlayer.

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