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The Moor: Lives, Landscape, Literature

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William Atkins's journey took him across the threshold between town and city, ancient and modern, public and private, cultivation and wildness - and, above all, along the fault-line between two great forces that have forged modern Britain: our rural heritage and the industrial revolution. The book is an account of a deeply personal journey into this distinctive and very Bri William Atkins's journey took him across the threshold between town and city, ancient and modern, public and private, cultivation and wildness - and, above all, along the fault-line between two great forces that have forged modern Britain: our rural heritage and the industrial revolution. The book is an account of a deeply personal journey into this distinctive and very British landscape, taking the reader from south to north, from the tamest moor to the wildest. It's both travelogue and natural history, and an exploration of the position of moorland in our literature, history and psyche. It's not merely an account of solitary wandering, but of encounters, busy with the voices of the moors, past and present - gamekeepers and ramblers, shepherds and huntsmen, miners and archaeologists, publicans and priests, meteorologists and dry-stone wallers, environmentalists and developers. The Moor is a journey into Britain's single most expansive natural habitat - and its most mysterious.


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William Atkins's journey took him across the threshold between town and city, ancient and modern, public and private, cultivation and wildness - and, above all, along the fault-line between two great forces that have forged modern Britain: our rural heritage and the industrial revolution. The book is an account of a deeply personal journey into this distinctive and very Bri William Atkins's journey took him across the threshold between town and city, ancient and modern, public and private, cultivation and wildness - and, above all, along the fault-line between two great forces that have forged modern Britain: our rural heritage and the industrial revolution. The book is an account of a deeply personal journey into this distinctive and very British landscape, taking the reader from south to north, from the tamest moor to the wildest. It's both travelogue and natural history, and an exploration of the position of moorland in our literature, history and psyche. It's not merely an account of solitary wandering, but of encounters, busy with the voices of the moors, past and present - gamekeepers and ramblers, shepherds and huntsmen, miners and archaeologists, publicans and priests, meteorologists and dry-stone wallers, environmentalists and developers. The Moor is a journey into Britain's single most expansive natural habitat - and its most mysterious.

30 review for The Moor: Lives, Landscape, Literature

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The Moor. Just the thought of it can bring up feelings of bleakness, isolation and forbidding places. An Britain has it's fair share of moorland too, from the windswept southern moors in Cornwall and Devon to the harsh and uncompromising northern moors of Yorkshire and Lancashire. And yet these places have supported industries and livelihoods for hundreds of years and inspired some of most well known literature as well as providing perfect environment for some of the unique flora and fauna perfec The Moor. Just the thought of it can bring up feelings of bleakness, isolation and forbidding places. An Britain has it's fair share of moorland too, from the windswept southern moors in Cornwall and Devon to the harsh and uncompromising northern moors of Yorkshire and Lancashire. And yet these places have supported industries and livelihoods for hundreds of years and inspired some of most well known literature as well as providing perfect environment for some of the unique flora and fauna perfectly adapted to these places. In this book, Atkins walks these moors to uncover their past events and the people that inhabited them, as well as absorb their stark beauty. He visits Dartmoor prison in the centre of Dartmoor, which presents any prisoner intending on escaping with the toughest of journeys. He joins shoots on the moors, and visits those that still have legends that haunt the location. Well worth reading, Atkins has given us a fascinating account of some of the the harshest environments that this country has, and has brought the history of them alive. 3.5 stars overall.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    3.5 On a clear day, if I look out of my house's upstairs windows I can see the outline of the North Yorks Moors hills in the distance, about 15 miles away. On nice days we might choose to go walking across their network of footpaths and bridleways, admiring the lambs in the Spring and the purple heather in the autumn. Between November and February I don't tend to go anywhere near them! Seeing pictures of banks of snow and impassable roads on the local news is quite enough. Until I read this book I 3.5 On a clear day, if I look out of my house's upstairs windows I can see the outline of the North Yorks Moors hills in the distance, about 15 miles away. On nice days we might choose to go walking across their network of footpaths and bridleways, admiring the lambs in the Spring and the purple heather in the autumn. Between November and February I don't tend to go anywhere near them! Seeing pictures of banks of snow and impassable roads on the local news is quite enough. Until I read this book I knew very little about the moors, not just in North Yorkshire where I live but the other moorland areas of England. I liked the mixture of natural history, social history and the role of the moor in novels and poetry. And it's given me a good view of what the moors are like during the months that I avoid them. I have the luxury to be able to do so. Farmers, gamekeepers, wardens etc have to deal with them every day of the year. Atkins writes well, although I felt that some chapters (the grouse shooting for instance) went on far too long. And why no illustrations of such a scenic area? Not one photograph or any sort of picture in the entire book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nigel

    As someone who has been walking moors since I was a toddler (and I am now well on the way to the opposite end of life) a book on moorland was a must read. I can happily say that I enjoyed this book ranging widely over subject matter and areas. I've walked on all the areas mentioned over the years and for some areas I've visited rarely I learnt quite a bit; much less so with areas I'm fairly well acquainted with. The main problem I have with it is while I love rambling over moorland so does this As someone who has been walking moors since I was a toddler (and I am now well on the way to the opposite end of life) a book on moorland was a must read. I can happily say that I enjoyed this book ranging widely over subject matter and areas. I've walked on all the areas mentioned over the years and for some areas I've visited rarely I learnt quite a bit; much less so with areas I'm fairly well acquainted with. The main problem I have with it is while I love rambling over moorland so does this book. The choice of subject matter for each moorland area is very personal and at times obviously important - the Abbot's Way on Dartmoor, Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor and Ian Brady on Saddleworth Moor are examples. However there were times when I felt that the original subject had become lost in a diversion only to suddenly reappear unexpectedly. The space given over tor some of the moorland areas is rather limited and I felt a little frustrated at times that there was insufficient about a subject I'd become interested in and more than I wanted on another subject. Any lover of moorland will be very happy to have this on thier bookshelves even if it is rather idiosyncratic in its approach. Covering industrial use, flora and fauna, social history, the environment, literature to name but a few of the subjects mainly for nine moorlands in England is bound to be a challenge but I would recommend it to those with an interest in the wonderful environment we know as "moorland". Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    I've always jointly loved and been terrified of the moors, this book reminds me why. I've always jointly loved and been terrified of the moors, this book reminds me why.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    The right kind of nature writing; Atkins doesn't just wax lyrical about nature, but explores the effects that humans have on "wild" environments, in this case English moors from south-west to north-east. He may go a bit overboard on description at times, but it's full of interest. I particularly like the way he finds an individual historical character, such as a farmer, and uses documentary evidence such as journals and account books to bring a period to life. One strong theme is grouse-shooting The right kind of nature writing; Atkins doesn't just wax lyrical about nature, but explores the effects that humans have on "wild" environments, in this case English moors from south-west to north-east. He may go a bit overboard on description at times, but it's full of interest. I particularly like the way he finds an individual historical character, such as a farmer, and uses documentary evidence such as journals and account books to bring a period to life. One strong theme is grouse-shooting, not surprisingly. He does a good job of exploring the issue from both sides, spending time with shooters, gamekeepers, and their opponents -- without going so far as to defend the indefensible (the elimination of hen harriers for example).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I want to read this RIGHT NOW but it is only available from libraries in the United Kingdom. *cue angry Hulk fists on desk*

  7. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    This book has something of the feel of a "first" book. Atkins is clearly a talented writer and has a good observational eye but like the moorland he describes, the book feels patchy as though there are some connections missing. Perhaps part of the problem is that few of us will be familiar with all the moors that he describes. I can see the South Pennine Moors from my house, and have holidayed a fair bit in the North York moors, but know Bodmin moor not at all and hadn't even heard of Otterburn M This book has something of the feel of a "first" book. Atkins is clearly a talented writer and has a good observational eye but like the moorland he describes, the book feels patchy as though there are some connections missing. Perhaps part of the problem is that few of us will be familiar with all the moors that he describes. I can see the South Pennine Moors from my house, and have holidayed a fair bit in the North York moors, but know Bodmin moor not at all and hadn't even heard of Otterburn Moor. It therefore becomes difficult to picture what he is describing without just falling into a generic moor description (grouse, grouse, eccentric clergy, more grouse). Pictures might have helped a little - though there are probably only so many pictures of sphagnum moss that a book can cope with. Maps should have been an absolute must and I am really surprised that no-one made the decision to preface each chapter with a map of the moor being described. It would, I think, have made a great difference.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    My edition has as its title: The Moor: A Journey into the English Wilderness. Not sure why because the original is more accurate and inviting. We are in the English wilderness, but we have companions. Great ones: Brontes, Auden, Hughes; the lesser known historical writers and workers( whose names I kept googling!) and the folk who inhabit the moors today. Atkins is a romantic to me - his prose is beautiful with a kind of longing. I will be paying attention to the Wainwright Prize selections in t My edition has as its title: The Moor: A Journey into the English Wilderness. Not sure why because the original is more accurate and inviting. We are in the English wilderness, but we have companions. Great ones: Brontes, Auden, Hughes; the lesser known historical writers and workers( whose names I kept googling!) and the folk who inhabit the moors today. Atkins is a romantic to me - his prose is beautiful with a kind of longing. I will be paying attention to the Wainwright Prize selections in the future.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jed Mayer

    An engaging, if somewhat meandering, record of encounter that is at its best when it merges natural history and walking tour. Atkins is much easier going about the human presence on the moor than I could ever imagine being: the grouse hunting chapter was particularly hard going for me, and I missed a more sustained criticism of this elitist and ecologically destructive blood-sport. The book is also very much for British readers only, as the author makes no concession to readers who may not be fa An engaging, if somewhat meandering, record of encounter that is at its best when it merges natural history and walking tour. Atkins is much easier going about the human presence on the moor than I could ever imagine being: the grouse hunting chapter was particularly hard going for me, and I missed a more sustained criticism of this elitist and ecologically destructive blood-sport. The book is also very much for British readers only, as the author makes no concession to readers who may not be familiar with the finer details of British landscape, particularly the lexicon (I spent half the time Googling terms and places while reading--some maps would have been nice!). Nevertheless, there is a lot of intriguing history here, and some moments of fine writing: definitely recommended for readers intrigued by these unique landscapes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Dry with occasional interesting stories

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Matheson

    I enjoyed this book. It is non-fiction which I don't read often so it was a refreshing change for me. The author travels around England to various moorlands interviewing characters he meets, exploring and laying out the history of the area. The book is sprinkled liberally with allusions to literary figures such as Ted Hughes, Emily Bronte and WH Auden with interesting stories I hadn't heard before. I particularly enjoyed the section on the North York Moors as I knew this area well as a child. He I enjoyed this book. It is non-fiction which I don't read often so it was a refreshing change for me. The author travels around England to various moorlands interviewing characters he meets, exploring and laying out the history of the area. The book is sprinkled liberally with allusions to literary figures such as Ted Hughes, Emily Bronte and WH Auden with interesting stories I hadn't heard before. I particularly enjoyed the section on the North York Moors as I knew this area well as a child. He describes a grouse shoot in all its barbarity and delves into the differing local views on the subject. In the past the moors were often referred to as a dead space like a desert but I must say I have never found them so. They are full of life: hawks, heather, cotton grass, sphagnum moss... I have always felt drawn to them. As a child you could ride across them for hours hardly seeing a soul save a tweed clad farmer who would tell you your riding lessons were too expensive and use thee and tha to address you like an Elizabethan poet. It made me feel very nostalgic for the Yorkshire moorlands even in the viciousness of their winters which are well described by Atkins. There is something glorious and other worldly about them. You can find God there.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Delphine

    Atkins explores the grim English moors on various levels: The Moor is a mixture of natural and social history and it also examines the role of moors in literature (Wuthering Heights! Jamaica Inn! The Brontës! Ted Hughes!). It's a landscape of grouse shooters, mine relics and military fields. Fascinating read, although the final chapters are a bit tedious. Don't be discouraged by the many geographical references, the book is a pleasant enough read even for those lacking geographical background Atkins explores the grim English moors on various levels: The Moor is a mixture of natural and social history and it also examines the role of moors in literature (Wuthering Heights! Jamaica Inn! The Brontës! Ted Hughes!). It's a landscape of grouse shooters, mine relics and military fields. Fascinating read, although the final chapters are a bit tedious. Don't be discouraged by the many geographical references, the book is a pleasant enough read even for those lacking geographical background information.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    A few maps and pictures should have been included.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ella A.

    "You might travel to escape the self, but in the desert of all places, where there is little else, you are thrown back upon your mind and your body with intensified force." The Moor is a book that confounds definition. It is at once a memoir, non-fiction, a set of tales, and a book of nature writing. Although it may seem difficult to combine all of these subjects, Atkins' does so with ease and grace. The book does have a stream of consciousness vibe which could make it slightly tedious at times b "You might travel to escape the self, but in the desert of all places, where there is little else, you are thrown back upon your mind and your body with intensified force." The Moor is a book that confounds definition. It is at once a memoir, non-fiction, a set of tales, and a book of nature writing. Although it may seem difficult to combine all of these subjects, Atkins' does so with ease and grace. The book does have a stream of consciousness vibe which could make it slightly tedious at times but in its entirety, I found it really well-written and meaningful. I found the flow of Atkins' exquisitely describing the landscapes and then moving on to science and geology to discussing the wild characters he met on the moors to it's wilder historical fans to be mesmerizing. It made me feel as if, I too were journeying with Atkins through the strange and foreboding landscape of the moors. The strongest moments of the book where Atkins' details. When Atkin's discusses his strange lunches of pink peppermint candies and crackers or tells a short legend from the moors, the book shines. When he describes the heather's as a “gnatty haze," the starling murmuration as a “reel of film slipping off its spool" or the "moor s[inking] through chartreuse slipes, down to...emerald intakes," the book dazzles. My only wish is that Atkin's had included a map and photographs. While the descriptions of the moors were beautiful and painted a clear picture, my imagination could only take me so far. I have never visited a moor and where I live in an American suburb. I grew up surrounded by concrete and brick streets, not peat and heather! Some photographs would be nice for those who are not from British Moorland to get a picture of it. Overall, the moors are even more strange and haunting to me upon leaving this book. They are a landscape that can appear barren and crunchy beige or violet and floral depending on the season. It has winds that can make your knees buckle and a misstep can leave you deep in a bog. As Atkins writes, the moors are a “sea … stretching into infinity." You get Atkins' reverence and fear for the landscape and it is an arresting experience to see him grapple with its challenges and gifts.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Iain Robinson

    An ambitious book, taking studies of English moors as a motif for the deeper study of literature and nature and the impermanence of our lives. It's a curate's egg of a book- sometimes interesting and adroit, often exhaustingly tedious. But it teems with nuggets of interest about ordinary folk and sets them against the moorland backdrop, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. I thought the gamekeeper segment was too long, for instance. When writing about the military incursions, he writes signific An ambitious book, taking studies of English moors as a motif for the deeper study of literature and nature and the impermanence of our lives. It's a curate's egg of a book- sometimes interesting and adroit, often exhaustingly tedious. But it teems with nuggets of interest about ordinary folk and sets them against the moorland backdrop, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. I thought the gamekeeper segment was too long, for instance. When writing about the military incursions, he writes significantly less effectively that Fay Godwin, who was principally a photographer. But I am being unkind. He writes well enough, sometimes very well, but mostly adequately- yet I did enjoy the book, and it has stayed on my shelves alongside MacFarlane and Shepherd...I haven't sent it away to the charity shop. So three stars, for an interesting read that must have taken a lot of research, but just isn't very entertaining.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    In these strange lockdown days, when any kind of unnecessary travel is verboten, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to follow ancient footsteps and hear only the sound of your own breathing. Across Dartmoor now...fabled beasts that rip out the throats of unfortunate livestock, captured prisoners from the Napoleonic wars swinging in cheap hammocks in Princetown, bee keepers and drunken abbots, and somewhere in the darkness the hound of the Baskervilles, stalking me from fiction a century ago. Next s In these strange lockdown days, when any kind of unnecessary travel is verboten, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to follow ancient footsteps and hear only the sound of your own breathing. Across Dartmoor now...fabled beasts that rip out the throats of unfortunate livestock, captured prisoners from the Napoleonic wars swinging in cheap hammocks in Princetown, bee keepers and drunken abbots, and somewhere in the darkness the hound of the Baskervilles, stalking me from fiction a century ago. Next stop Saddleworth, grim despair and empty cold hopelessness. On to the wuthering heights of what’s known as Brontë country, and up to North Yorkshire, with groundsmen, hunters, birders and other-worldly RAF listening stations. The best travelogues and nature books take you with them. I’m right there. This is a beautifully written and elegiac book. Wonderful and spirited and an important guide to the land beneath our feet.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    I suspect that it's growing up in the rich, flat agricultural land of Norfolk that's caused me to have a love of bleak, rough, open moorlands in adult life. William Atkins' excellent book captures the essence of the moor's appeal: the apparent wildness, the extremes of weather and the solitude all draw the visitor in search of escape or a close encounter with the elements but as he demonstrates in his travels from Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor in the south west up through the South Pennine wa I suspect that it's growing up in the rich, flat agricultural land of Norfolk that's caused me to have a love of bleak, rough, open moorlands in adult life. William Atkins' excellent book captures the essence of the moor's appeal: the apparent wildness, the extremes of weather and the solitude all draw the visitor in search of escape or a close encounter with the elements but as he demonstrates in his travels from Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor in the south west up through the South Pennine wastes of Saddleworth, Haworth and the Calder Valley to the North York Moors and beyond to the vast northern moorlands of the north Pennine watershed and Northumberland, the moors have many different lives and many histories, lived, experienced and imagined. The Moor is an immensely satisfying book - the perfect mixture of travelogue, natural history, social history, wonder and illumination.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    I read this in sections over several weeks, and just the areas of moorland I’d been to, in both the north east and the north west. The detail is remarkable, with many fascinating stories from the past and the present. It made me want to go for a long walk on the moors - but never in wet weather. Some very depressing facts about the near-extinction of birds of prey, hunted down so that the grouse moors can bring huge financial benefits to wealthy landowners. If you have no interest in moors, this I read this in sections over several weeks, and just the areas of moorland I’d been to, in both the north east and the north west. The detail is remarkable, with many fascinating stories from the past and the present. It made me want to go for a long walk on the moors - but never in wet weather. Some very depressing facts about the near-extinction of birds of prey, hunted down so that the grouse moors can bring huge financial benefits to wealthy landowners. If you have no interest in moors, this book is probably not for you.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Very interesting and serving to realise how much of my A level geography I don't really remember. Moors, like for me the architectural arch, amaze and intrigue me and this was comprehensive enough to give a tour and a taste - and more - about their complex ecosystems and associated culture. Very interesting and serving to realise how much of my A level geography I don't really remember. Moors, like for me the architectural arch, amaze and intrigue me and this was comprehensive enough to give a tour and a taste - and more - about their complex ecosystems and associated culture.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Flob

    I enjoy walking in moorland and so this book preached to the converted. I know many of the moors well. It was one of those books that feels informative while reading it but afterwards I remember precious little of what I read - my fault or the books?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Diane Cameron

    Thorough, pleasant but somewhat exhaustive.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steve Chilton

    Like walking in peat bogs, I found this book rather hard work. It is certainly not an easy read, especially some of the literary referencing. Some fascinating detail though, even on moors that I feel I know pretty well. Not too bad a read, but I was a bit surprised to see it was short listed for the Wainright award.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicola Brown

    An interesting book and well written book, which held my interest even though it was not something I would have picked up unprompted. I enjoyed particularly the information about the various writers who have been inspired by the moors, but there was a wealth of interesting information on all sorts of diverse topics. I'm glad I read it, but am now glad I have finished it and can read a novel next. An interesting book and well written book, which held my interest even though it was not something I would have picked up unprompted. I enjoyed particularly the information about the various writers who have been inspired by the moors, but there was a wealth of interesting information on all sorts of diverse topics. I'm glad I read it, but am now glad I have finished it and can read a novel next.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Brown

    I found this book at the Fairmont in St. Andrew, Scotland library and thought I would read the first chapter since it was about the Bodmin Moors that we visited a few years ago in Cornwall with my parents. Maybe someday I will finish the book. It was a mix of information and legends about the moors.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Maybe the last English wilderness, seen through the eyes of the exploring author plus other literary and historical figures.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    to look into/hunt down

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rosetta Allan

    An interesting read, and in parts lovely and poetic. Would have loved some maps or images of some sort.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Helen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Simon London

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tweedledum

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