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Thursday, 3 March 2016

Lakeland Walking With Wildlife : A Review

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And now for something completely different: The Pieblog does a book review. This will fill in the time whilst I attempt to get to the Snake Pass Inn on the snowiest weekend of the winter for the TGO chally spring reunion.

Here goes…

Lakeland  Walking With Wildlife by Alan Gane published by Austin Macauley UK price £8.99.

Over an eighteen years, Alan Gane led a local walking group known (locally) as The Mockerkin Mob and wrote a series of articles to The Link the magazine of the United Benefice of Lorton and Loweswater with Buttermere and this work is a reproduction of those articles. This explains it’s structure, which is a large number (I couldn’t count them all) of articles or chapters detailing walks and the flowers, birds and animals likely to be encountered during different seasons, plus articles specific to the habits of particular birds, animals or, indeed, flowers. Or, rather, plants.

The articles are necessarily short – two or three pages each and this is ideal for those with a short attention span, reading late at night, having consumed toast and cocoa and being lulled off to sleep by “Sailing By” on Radio 4 just before the shipping forecast signals dreamy snoozy sleepy time for me and LTD. (LTD is usually fast asleep by this time anyway). A chapter or two per night is just enough.

Alan Gane is a highly qualified biologist who worked in agricultural research, mainly, apparently, concerning peas and his main strength, and where his knowledge and affection for the subject shines through is when he’s writing about  plants, their germination and reproduction and so on.  And he tells the reader whereabouts in Lakeland and when some of those plants might be found.

He’s also interesting and engaging when he writes about birdlife and seems to have a particular affinity to raptors and ravens (no bad thing!) and, similarly there’s good intelligence for the walker about how one might go about witnessing the behaviours of badgers, foxes, deer and, even , frogs. His discourse on why dock leaves might be full of holes was a revelation to me to such an extent that I may well start examining dock leaves in great detail in future. This is just the kind of subject that Gane is really good at. Superb stuff.

And he’s a walker too. Readers who are seasoned Lake District walkers will be armed with some new routes to try – sometimes a bit scrambly, sometimes not. And there’s old favourites in there too.

There’s a lot of articles here – 364 pages including a bibliography. Gane’s love for his local area, which seems to be mainly the North-West of the Lake Dstrict shines through and often, the writing is highly evocative.

The North-West, though is a limited area, though, and so , given the original role of the articles and the fact that they were written over several years, there’s quite a bit of repetition. Some of the routes are the subject of more than one article and so too are some of the birds in particular. I found this a bit irritating, to be fair.

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Those new to hillwalking and, walking in the Lake District in particular, might be taken by surprise by some of the scrambly routes. Sharp Edge, in particular has two recomendations for a descent and the difficulties of the route aren’t, in my opinion, given sufficient weight. Given that this is one of the two or three most prolific accident blackspots in Cumbria which has killed or maimed at least 100 people over the years – and where those people tumbling into the “usual gully” are mainly climbing up, I worry a bit about the recomendation to climb down it. Experienced walkers will be aware of it’s reputation and will be able to make objective judgements about it, but novices may well have to rely on luck.

I found that some of the writing was a bit awkward and that Gane was struggling at times to express himself but given the timeframe and the purpose of the articles, it may well be that Gane’s writing skills developed over a considerable length of time and that sometimes, perhaps often, he had different levels of pressure , or, indeed, ideas, about his subjects for The Link. My impression was that there was a significant variance in the quality of the writing, some of which is quite naive and some seems more sophisticated. I glossed over the poetry. I always gloss over poetry. This is no reflection on the poet. I just don’t do poetry, it makes my eyes glaze over.

I think the work could have been improved significantly by culling a large number of the chapters and replacing these with some illustrations. Readers who have little idea about plants etc could be better informed with the addition of some pictures, rather than just a bare list of whatever might be seen at a certain spot. And the walks have some detailed directions which might be better served by a simple map. Experienced walkers can be instructed to follow a ridge or a rake, or whatever and will do the research and find their way without being told to turn right at the third stile. Inexperienced walkers need a proper guidebook.

Gane does write  proudly about his photography and we’d like to see it. I’d like to have seen it. There’s just a few pictures in the middle of the book. It’s a shame. Much more could have been done, but then, maybe, it wouldn’t be what it is.

As it is, it’s a series of articles covering a small part of the Lakes in detail and which could well be useful, informative and , perhaps, even, inspirational as a reference work. You’d have to supplement the information with literature on flora and fauna, and with an OS map, maybe a relevant guidebook too, which may well be not such a bad thing and (given that I got it for nothing!) it will serve such a purpose in my own library. But I think it could have been much better – maybe two or three books, in fact.

Lakeland Walking With Wildlife by Alan Gane.  Austin Macauley  ISBN 978-1785548086


1 comment:

Dawn Linney said...

Interesting stuff!