Skip to main content

On the Moor - Richard Carter ****

There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.

Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.

I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland's stark beauty was as familiar to me as my childhood home. I had friends at school whose parents were hill farmers on the moors, where you seemed to travel back in time and you'd be lucky to find a bathroom that wasn't a tin bath in front of the fire. So it was very easy to fall in with Carter's enthusiasm for the landscape (though, given I am from the Lancashire side of the Pennines, perhaps less so for his heavy-handed Yorkshire plugging).

On the nature side, I'll be honest, I'm not the natural audience. I've never been particularly interested in birds, which feature strongly here. It's not that I don't enjoy looking at them if I come across them, but they aren't the stand-out feature to me that the clearly are to Carter. I'd also say that there's perhaps a bit too much repetition of the experience of being on the moor itself. Not because I don't appreciate it - I do - but rather because I got to the point of wanting to say 'Okay, I get it!'

Although I might object to any aggressive Yorkshireness, I did really enjoy Carter's rant, somewhat reminiscent of David Mitchell in full flow, about the need to set Wuthering Heights and Bronte-stuff in general here on the Pennine moors, not in the Yorkshire Dales, as filmmakers and the like regularly seem to misplace it.

All in all, this is probably best described as a great ramble on the moor with an expert guide. Rambling definitely comes into it, as we skip from season to season, or switch attention from the miniature botanical landscape (just say heather and bilberry to me, and I'm weak at the knees) established in the top of an old fence post, to Carter's vacuum flask of tea (with some thoughts on Dewar and his development of it) to John Tyndall, explaining why the sky is blue. It's a wuthering wonder.



Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

Rockets and Rayguns - Andrew May ****

The Cold War period saw dramatic developments in science and technology, coinciding with the flourishing of the science fiction genre. In Rockets and Rayguns, Andrew May draws on the parallels between reality and fiction, each influencing the other.

Inevitably a major Cold War theme was the threat of nuclear war, and May opens with the bomb. It's fascinating that fiction got there first - nuclear weapons were featured in science fiction when many physicists were still doubting the practicality of using nuclear energy. Of course, it's a lot easier to simply take a concept and dream up a weapon than it is to make it for real - for example, H. G. Wells' prophetic nuclear bombs from his 1914 The World Set Free were nothing like the real thing. And some science fiction devices concepts - notably ray guns and force fields - came to very little in reality. However this doesn't prevent the parallels being of interest.

May gives us a mix of the science - describing how nuclear we…

Galileo Galilei, the Tuscan Artist – Pietro Greco ****

Near the beginning of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, he refers to a ‘Tuscan artist’ viewing the Moon through an optic glass. He’s talking about Galileo – one of history’s greatest scientists, but not the most obvious person to slap an ‘artist’ label on. Yet Galileo lived at a time – the Renaissance – when it was fashionable to dabble impartially in both the arts and sciences. Look up ‘Renaissance man’ on Wikipedia and you’ll see Galileo’s picture right there underneath Leonardo da Vinci’s. It’s a less well-known side to his life, but it crops up again and again – interspersed among his many scientific achievements – in this excellent new biography by Pietro Greco.

If you’re looking for interesting trivia, you’ll find plenty in this book. Galileo’s father was a musician with scientific leanings, who carried out some of the first experiments on musical acoustics – which Galileo may have assisted with. As a young professor of mathematics, Galileo delivered a couple of lectures on …

The Ultimate Interplanetary Travel Guide - Jim Bell **

Not too long ago, NASA brought out a series of spoof ‘space tourism’ posters for various destinations in the Solar System. For people like me, who have watched NASA depressingly fail to send humans to the other planets for decade after decade, it was just another painful twist of the knife. On the other hand, the posters probably have more appeal for younger and less cynical minds, by presenting familiar astronomical objects in a new and engaging way. There may even be scope for a whole book along these lines – and that’s what Jim Bell has attempted here.

The main thing I learned from it is that my brain is programmed to read either fiction or non-fiction, and can’t handle a 50:50 mix of the two – which is what this book is. It drove me mad –  not least because I could see that the same material, presented as straight non-fiction, could have made a really excellent book. Using the NASA posters as a starting point, he could have enumerated the potential ‘tourist sights’ at each location…