Neil Ansell: The Last Wilderness
I’ve just finished reading this. There’s too much ‘nature writing’ these days, and most of it is, frankly, piss poor, and too often cranked out by London burn-outs who retreat to ‘The Regions’ (“the bit of Britain that isn’t London”, as George Shaw defines it) and cheer themselves up with a spot of birdwatching. None of which describes Neil Ansell, who has lived an interesting life, often going out of his way to get out of the way, wandering alone across most continents of the earth. In his first book, Deep Country, he documents the five years he spent living in an abandoned farmhouse in the Welsh hills, the place he decided to cease his wandering in. That’s a good book. Subtle, understated, but suffused with a knowledge and understanding of the non-human world that can only be gained by walking the walk. The Last Wilderness finds him returning several times to the North Bounds, a remote part of the western Highlands of Scotland, battling illness and the slow retreat of his auditory perceptions, to go out in all weathers, looking for…well, he never says what, but it’s clear he’s looking for something. The relentlessness of his pursuit reminded me of Roger Deakin’s “mad enough” quest to swim through the British Isles, as documented in Waterlog, but Ansell is a less effusive presence, exuding a zen-like calm and a wounded reverence for the natural world he sees slowly unpeeling before him. Elegiac in tone, his love for the land and the things that live in it is inspirational. Highly recommended.
Above is a mock-up cover for the book, using my 2017 painting, ‘All Heads Turn When The Hunt Goes By’: