The Wild Places
Author: Robert Macfarlane
Are there any really wild places left in Britain and Ireland? The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane's lyrical, intelligent and marvelously eccentric account of his travels around these islands, answers the question with a qualified yes - qualified in the sense that many of the places we fondly imagine to be wild have in fact been shaped by human activity since the Neolithic.
In a thoughtful and wide-ranging interview with the literary blog, Macfarlane considers what this means for British travel writing in an age when budget flights and globalisation have shrunk the planet, making it harder to find places with the requisite sense of strangeness and adventure. As he rightly points out, travel writing "has devolved into either the clowny-comedic, or the very pensionable mode of the liberal humanist chappie who goes to a foreign country and says what he thinks of it to other liberal humanist chappies".
While there are still great practitioners of the old school, most notably Colin Thubron, the natural habitat of these big beasts is dwindling fast, and their work is infused with a melancholy sense of coming at the end of a tradition. So how is the younger generation of travel writers facing up to this challenge? Some resort to gimmicks, like Tony Hawks with his Round Ireland with a Fridge. Some focus on the means of transport - bike, motorcycle, camel - at the expense of the places experienced, while a depressing number of books have very little sense of cultural engagement.
One development, however, that is genuinely encouraging is the increasing hybridisation of the genre, especially as its practitioners are often prose stylists of the highest quality.