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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.


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Review by Brian Clegg


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