Wednesday 14 March 2018


The Last Wilderness by Neil Ansell

I've been meaning to pick up more nature writing and The Last Wilderness has been the perfect introduction. Neil Ansell's astute observations and eloquent descriptions of his solitary journey through the remote Scottish Highlands was a true delight to experience – bringing a sense of calm to my hectic days with the sheer power of his words.

Over the course of a year in separate trips up north, Neil Ansell explores the remote parts of the Scottish Highlands in this memoir about solitude and silence. The latter, because along with the changing of the seasons, Ansell's hearing worsens and so while he deliberately sets out to a quiet part of the world, he gets more than he has bargained for as he slowly but surely loses the ability to hear his beloved bird songs.

What remains a constant on each of his trips however, are his perseverance and adventurous spirit to push through challenges and explore new places that bring his closer to nature. He observes otters, deer and other wildlife along the way, his descriptions of the animals and his serene surroundings perspective and beautiful.

Even to someone like me who cannot possible imagine leaving modern amenities behind for the wild, his writings about the tranquil landscape and animal life he came across on his path sound like a very tempting alternative to having my weeks and months fly by in a busy city where the bird sounds are drowned out by human noise.

What I particularly enjoyed within this memoir was Ansell recounting travel stories from throughout his life, linking, for example, an animal encounter in the present to one from years before on a different continent. Having spend some time in similar places to Ansell I recognised certain locations, but his perceptive observations far exceeded my own, creating a rich experience; even second-hand through his wonderful words.

Though this going back and forth between past and present did have one slightly less positive effect. Sometimes Ansell would refer to the children he left behind each time he travels up north or the illness that might prohibit him from taking these trips in the future in a fleeting moment of memory, and as a reader I was desperate to hear more. But the conclusion to these never came, leaving an unfinished story lingering dissatisfied in the background. 

Despite this, The Last Wilderness was a beautiful and serene read. A great entry into nature writing, this memoir provides a point of calm in our fast-paced and ever-connected lives and a renewed appreciation of the natural world surrounding us.

The Last Wilderness is published by Tinder Press and you can buy your copy now from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.

🎵 Listening to: Jason Mraz – I Won't Give Up
🔹 Mood: Sleepy

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