Essays

The Lie of the Land

April 10, 2017 Last June, I voted to leave the European Union. I wasn’t an anti-EU fanatic but I was, despite my advancing…

2016: Year of the Serpent

December 15, 2016 We take almost all of the decisive steps in our lives as a result of slight inner adjustments of which…

Brexit & the culture of Progress

November 3, 2016 In his introduction to the 1979 edition of his novel Pig Earth – the first in a trilogy chronicling the…

Four poets’ houses

October 15, 2016 1. Dove Cottage, Grasmere, England Until now, poetry has meant nothing to me. I’ve never understood it, or much cared.…

The Call of the Wild

July 26, 2016 We had climbed, slowly, to a high mountain ridge. We were two young Englishmen who were not supposed to be…

The Speaking of the Stones

June 1, 2016 On 23rd October 1642, an army of English Royalists under the command of Prince Rupert of the Rhine was marching…

Planting Trees in the Anthropocene

October 23, 2015 I wish I wish I wish in vain I wish I were a maid again. But a maid again I…

Rescuing the English

March 13, 2015 Some years back, I was driving through northern England with a friend. On a Cumbrian A-road west of Kendal, we…

The Witness

February 1, 2015 The greatest ecological crisis in the Earth’s history began with the emission of climate-changing gases by an organism that had…

In The Black Chamber

April 4, 2014 It is a long walk, or it seems like one, especially if you are taking your small children with you. In reality, it is just over a kilometre; a journey which, on the surface, would take ten minutes or so. But we are not on the surface. We are several hundred feet below the slopes of a limestone mountain, and if we weren't all carrying torches, the darkness would be entire and unending. This is Grotte de Niaux &emdash; Niaux cave &emdash; in the French Pyrenees. The great rock overhang which marks the entrance is visible for miles along the river valley outside. The cave is a scribbled network of tunnels, most of them inaccessible now, at least to the public. As you move past the artificial entrance passage, through the thick steel door which is locked every night, your torchlight hits stalagmites three times the height of a human being, vast bulges and excrescences of rock on the ceiling and walls, dark crevices leading to chambers and side passages, icy black lakes and all the beauty and solidity to be found in the guts of an old mountain. It is cool, even and blacker than anything under the stars.
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