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.

Paperback:  


Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lucy Jane Santos - Four Way Interview

Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of 20th century leisure, health and beauty, with a particular interest in (some might say obsession with) the cultural history of radioactivity. Writes & talks (a lot) about cocktails and radium. Her debut book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium was published by Icon Books in July 2020.

Why science?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of science especially our daily interactions with and understandings of science – especially in a beauty context. I could spend hours pondering the labels of things on my bathroom shelf. What is 4-t-butylcyclohexanol (as a random example)? Do I really understand what I am putting on my face and spending my money on? Would it change my purchase habits if I did?  

Why this book?

This book came from an accidental discovery – that there was a product called Tho Radia which contained radium and thorium. I found out about it because I actually bought a pot of it – along with a big batch of other produc…

Rewilding: Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe ****

Those who are enthusiastic about saving the environment often have a mixed relationship with science. They might for example, support organic farming or oppose nuclear power, despite organics having no nutritional benefit and requiring far more land to be used to raise the same amount of crops, while nuclear is a green energy source that should be seen as an essential support to renewables. This same confusion can extend to the concept of rewilding, which is one reason that the subtitle of this book uses the word 'radical'.

As Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe make clear, though, radical change is what is required if we are to encourage ecological recovery. To begin with, we need to provide environments for nature that take in the big picture - thinking not just of individual nature reserves but, for example, of corridors that link areas allowing safe species migration. And we also need to move away from an arbitrary approach to restricting to 'native' species, as sometimes…

Is Einstein Still Right? - Clifford Will and Nicolas Yunes ***

If there's one thing that gets a touch tedious in science reporting it's the news headlines that some new observation or experiment 'proves Einstein right' - as if we're still not sure about relativity. At first glance that's what this book does too, but in reality Clifford Will and Nicolas Yunes are celebrating the effectiveness of the general theory of relativity, while being conscious that there may still be situations where, for whatever reason, the general theory is not sufficient.

It's a genuinely interesting book - what Will and Yunes do is take experiments that are probably familiar to the regular popular science reader already and expand on the simplified view of them we are usually given. So, for example, one of the first things they mention is the tower experiments to show the effect of gravitational red shift. I was aware of these experiments, but what we get here goes beyond the basics of the conceptual experiment to deal with the realities of d…