Getting back to Nature…

I recently wrote this book review of Woman in the Wilderness by Miriam Lancewood- so I thought I would share it here, so that if like me you are often trapped indoors, when you would rather be out adventuring – this is a little slice of happiness to dip into as you please.

‘If I really know what it is to live in the great Dao, then it is above all busy-ness that I fear.’ (Lao-tzu)

‘What do you think that means?’ I asked Peter, reading it out loud.

‘Well if you are busy, you’re occupied. Then it’s very easy to lose awareness. Without busy-ness there is time and space to look at yourself, to find a way out of your mental prison.’

Lancewood, 2017

Woman in the Wilderness is the memoir of Miriam Lancewood, a woman who has spent her adult life living in the wild with her partner Peter Raine. Miriam met Peter when she was travelling in India as a young woman aged 21. Peter, 30 years her senior, had already been living and travelling in India for five years, having previously completed a PhD in environmental studies and working as a full time lecturer in New Zealand before giving up everything to travel. Today he describes himself as a writer and philosopher and has been heavily influenced by philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Miriam completed a degree in physical education and had spent a year working in Zimbabwe before travelling to India, she had also been a top performing athlete in pole vaulting. The pair formed a strong partnership and travelled together across eight mountain ranges in the Himalayas and then spent many years travelling through South East Asia, including Papua New Guinea , before eventually returning to Peter’s native home of New Zealand. With Miriam’s physical abilities and strength and Peter’s calm and philosophical outlook on life they make an intriguing couple with many shared skills that have given them the ability to adapt through many challenges.

Woman in the Wilderness details six years of their travels, focusing specifically on living wild in New Zealand. Reading it filled me with an inner sense of peace and calm. Despite them facing challenges of survival, what this book does really well is to hold up a mirror to modern life, looking at it through fresh eyes. Miriam describes with energy and enthusiasm her love of the outdoors, the feeling of freedom and happiness she experiences when exploring and the way that time stretches when there is nothing to do but get through one day at a time.

‘Can you imagine a way of life so quiet, so timeless, so abundant and full that watching a single leaf fluttering from the trees, lifted into the air by a little breeze, turning silver in the sunshine in the sunshine is meaningful? ( (Lancewood, 2017, p. 88)

Miriam also fills the book with beautiful sharp imagery, such as this small observation of a hare:

‘Its ears would lie flat on its back, its body would take the shape of an arrow and it would effortlessly fly at tremendous speed straight up a steep slope.’ (Lancewood, 2017, p. 200)

When Miriam and Peter travel into populated areas to stay with friends between trips and to re-stock, they question what they see. The frenetic pace of modern life, the strange habits, rules and time schedules of society, the constant pressure, and burdens that we give to ourselves, the effort of interaction when so many expectations are placed on us. It makes you question materialism and how much we actually need, compared to what we think we need, to be happy. The thing that I enjoyed most however, is that they are not purist in their views, they can appreciate a comfortable armchair, enjoy using the internet when it is available to them, relish taking a hot shower when possible, but they don’t take anything for granted and greet everything with curiosity and contemplation.

Dipping into this book over the Easter holidays I felt like I was seeing the world with fresh eyes, although I won’t be moving into the wilderness just yet, it made me appreciate the very simplest of things, sitting out in the sunshine with the cat purring on my lap, a newly opened tulip, an affinity to the natural world. Miriam describes everything in our houses as dead, when everything outdoors is living and breathing. I appreciate what she means by this.

‘Nature provides all the living beings with everything we need to exist in this world,’ Peter said. Air, water, gravity, light, ground, soil, food-everything. Even well-being is provided by nature and beauty.’ (Lancewood, 2017, p. 114)

Reading the reviews for this book some people expressed disappointment that Miriam doesn’t detail practical skills such as starting a fire when the wood is damp, or navigating wild spaces. Some people also commented that the story became monotonous because nothing major happened. I didn’t feel this way at all, in fact I found it hard to put the book down. I felt that Woman in the Wilderness was the perfect combination of adventure and philosophy, it hit the nail on the head of so many of my own thoughts and values and each chapter helped me step into the natural world that I so often crave to experience.

It has inspired me to live more simply, to follow my intuition and above all to continue seeking time in nature, and if I can’t be in nature to connect to the natural world through writing and drawing,  something I am very grateful to the Naturewrights group to inspire me with daily.

To read this book is also to appreciate that we are ourselves just natural beings, and sometimes we need a reminder to slow down, to focus on what is really important and to allow ourselves the time to just ‘be’ in the moment.

‘I understood that we’re so focused on becoming that we miss being, and being is where we all are.’ (Lancewood, 2017, p. 187)


Lancewood, M. (2017). Woman in the Wilderness: My Story of Love, Survival and Self Discovery. London: Piatkus.

*Here is my confession – I first stumbled across Miriam and Peter on Channel 5 – on an episode of New Lives in the Wild with Ben Fogle of whom I am a huge fan. They were the most intriguing couple that I have seen on this show, which made me want to find out more, hence how I stumbled across Miriam’s book, a highlight on the show is her making Ben Fogle wash his hair in his own wee! (Sorry Ben – but it was funny!)

You can read more about Miriam here: and Peter also has a webpage:

A Brush with the Devil

Anyone that has learnt to drive will have that one place that instilled the type of fear into them that might make them tempted to pull into the side of the road abandon the car and resign yourself to a life of walking.

Mine was the Devil’s Elbow, a tight hairpin bend on a steep gradient in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors on the A169 road to Whitby. I remember chugging along age 18 in my first car, a Sunbeam Talbot, that rattled and clanked along the road. I would brace myself approaching the bend, dropping gears to chug up the hill, willing my little car to get to the top, willing myself to negotiate the gears and steering, petrified of stalling and a having to do a terrifying hill start, trying hard to ignore any cars stuck behind me in my retro vehicle, terrified of the car in front of me stalling and making me stop.

The reason for navigating this awful bend – The Devil’s Punch Bowl – otherwise known as The Hole of Horcum a spectacular spring-sapping formed basin on the Levisham Moor, formed over thousands of years by the process of natural erosion from springs flowing across the moor and carving out the basin, the process is still in action today.

I chose this walk as part of a blind selection of walks – chosen at random for a bit of fun. Driving across from York I was filled with apprehension, the weather was grey and bleak, reminding me of childhood car journeys in thick fog across the moors, scared to death that we would break down, cheering when we saw the headlights of another car approaching. The foreboding is always heightened further by the legendary Saltersgate Inn (now demolished) which sits at the bottom of the Devil’s Elbow twist in the road. It was rumoured to be haunted following the sinister murder of a customs and excise officer who, after discovering smugglers, was hit over the head with a rock and buried under the fireplace which was then kept continuously lit for 200 years!

I was so glad we went ahead with our plans and didn’t back out. Once we dropped into the Devil’s Punch Bowl we were greeted with swathes of snow and sheltered from the wind. By the time we came back up onto Levisham moor the sun was out giving us spectacular views of the vast landscape.

Down in the valley the trees were dripping with melting snow and covered in beautiful lichen formations.

My favourite story about the Devil’s Punch Bowl is the legend that it was created by the Giant Wade after he became frustrated with his wife and threw a load of earth at her! Thankfully my marriage is on much better terms and the only thing thrown by us and the kids was a load of snowballs.

The Green City of Bath…

Before I set off for a half term adventure to Bath my friend lent me a little trug for tired little dachshund legs. A little beach trolley that we could pull our dog around in, should she decide to give up on walking. (Which is quite frequent.)

Let me explain, it’s not that she is ill, or arthritic …. we own a ‘cat’shund, a dog who thinks she is a cat. Unlike a normal dog that gets excited when you eagerly say ‘walkies’, our dog looks at you, rolls her eyes and raises a flippant paw, as if to say ‘no thanks, you go on dear, have a lovely time’ before readjusting her lounging position on the sofa.

So it was with trepidation that we set off on our city break, with my husband taking the gung ho attitude of ‘she’s a bloody dog! I am not pulling her round in a trolley!’.

Needless to say the last few days have been what we term ‘divide and conquer’, this used to be reserved for our two children, with a three year age gap. Now it’s teen activities / versus dog activities.

Finding dog friendly green spaces we discovered that Bath is one of the most beautiful and green cities that we have visited. Golden sandstone Georgian town houses, are gathered in terraced rows, proudly sitting against a vista of rolling hills and trees.

The streets are peppered with antique shops, bric a brac finds and quirky outlets, we are all coming home with a few vintage finds. After a ten mile walk on Tuesday, in which we strayed out of the city and found Prior Park (National Trust site), and then yesterday the Royal Victoria Park with its gorgeous botanical gardens, we thought the dog would have given up. However it turns out the sight of a squirrel can re-ignite some inner canine hunting instinct and spark a burst of energy big enough to put a race horse to shame.

She still had her moments though, which luckily for us meant a good excuse to frequent some gorgeous coffee shops and long lazy pub lunches. Her doleful eyes ensured lots of treats from cafe owners and even a carry from one of the teens. Especially after we stumbled across this smug pair:

A very dog friendly city, I highly recommend a visit. Not sure if the ‘cat’shund would agree, she is looking forward to getting back to her beloved sofa and blankets, but we will definitely be returning in the future.

Book Launch! Seeds of Promise … a new adventure…

A year and a half ago, one of my students from the Field Studies Council courses approached me to see if I was interested in making an anthology of nature writing.

We hilariously thought it would take 3 – 6 months to complete! Hats off to all the publishers and editors out there …. we finally made it a year and a half later. I am so proud of the end result, it took a lot longer than we had planned because we were fitting it in around work and other commitments. We also approached publishers but ultimately decided to publish it ourselves so that all profits can go to environmental charities.

It was a huge learning journey, one I am so glad to have made. The icing on the cake is the beautiful illustrations by talented artist and writer Sharon Williamson.

You can find Seeds of Promise on Amazon, I promise it will take you on a journey of natural world discovery and intrigue. I also hope it will be a great point of inspiration to anyone looking at getting into nature writing. I’ve included a few pages at the back of the book specifically on getting started.

I hope you enjoy!

A Place on Mars…

I’ve been very quiet on here since summer, mainly due to a hectic schedule during September and over-committing myself to too many exciting opportunities, meaning my freelance work has had to take a back seat, while I have been getting my PhD and other commitments back on track. My day job at Converge ( has just come through two years of external research on our project – with hugely exciting results, so it has been all go – celebrating the outcomes and future planning for our team.

As part of my work with York St John University I had the opportunity to go to London for a few days to network with our London Campus. We stayed in Canary Wharf, which I had never visited before. It felt such an alien landscape for someone who is so deeply connected to the natural world, I found it a surreal environment, you could have dropped me on Mars for the same effect!

I was however, both surprised and delighted to hear a bird of prey from the 10th floor of the hotel. It was also encouraging to see ecological work being done around all the concrete and steel. I saw a beautiful yellow wagtail on the Lilly pads at the campus ponds.

It was a brilliant reminder of how important the natural world is to me and to experience something so hugely different to my usual lifestyle.

On another note … for anyone looking to take comfort from the natural world with winter approaching, I am running a Winter Solace Writing workshop on the 30th of Oct. Details on my Events page here.

Wild Camping

It was the sight of the tree canopy at night that most surprised me most when I went wild camping in the woods last Friday.

The camp had been booked with an instructor as a birthday treat for my 14 year old son and a couple of his friends. My husband was meant to be the ‘designated’ second adult to join the sleep over, but at the last minute fell ill with a stinking cold. So I got to go! Although of course – disappointed for my husband, I was delighted to have the opportunity to camp outdoors.

With no rain predicted we pitched our hammocks in a small clearing amongst Corsican Pine trees and decided not to bother with tarps over head.

The wood was eerily still at night, not creepy though, but quietly beautiful. I felt safe wrapped up in a sleeping bag cocoon and protected by the wood. The cool night breeze washed over my face and my body was warm and snug in thermals and eider down coziness.

It didn’t get pitch black, instead a white glow shone through the canopy, which looked like an ink blot painting against the sky.

I lay listening to sheep bleating in a distant field, the occasional ruffles of a startled pheasant and the shivering of the wind through the pine needles. At 4am the wood woke up with a cacophony of sound. The little chiff chaff merrily punctuating the air ‘wake up, wake up, wake up’ against an assortment of other bird calls.

When I say it was a ‘sleep over’ in the woods, not much sleep happened, but it was a wonderful experience to be immersed in the natural world overnight, to have the scent of woodsmoke on my skin and a warm mug of tea cupped in my hands at 6am.

For anyone interested in a wild camping experience we went with Forest Quest who I can not recommend highly enough.

Easter break….

A week on the Scottish Coast. Each day filled with sea air, beach combing and woodland walks. We were lucky enough to find some plant fossils in the shale rocks.

Much needed time for writing and creativity after a busy couple of months. Looking forward to delivering more nature based creative writing courses over the next few weeks including a nature writing poetry master class and a woodland inspired four week writing course which I am planning for June / July.

I always love returning to the home comforts of Base Camp and my gorgeous cats! I think they enjoyed having the house to themselves for a week, although we have been getting lots of cuddles .

Exploring the work of Constantin Guys…

Yesterday I picked up a book of sketches by Constantin Guys on a second hand shelf at the City of York Art Gallery.

I had never heard of Constantin Guys before, but the drawings and ink washes immediately caught my eye.

‘…born in a Kissinger, Holland, in 1802, the son of a chief commissioner in the French navy. In 1823 he joined Lord Byron’s and expedition to fight the Greek war for independence.’

His artistic career didn’t fully flourish until he was in his 40’s and in 1854 he was sent ‘to the Crimea to cover the movements of the English, French and Turkish troops in their fight against the Russians.’

He was famous for his illustrations of life in Paris, as well as his war drawings. I love the immediacy of the work and the way that simple mark making has created the energy and movement of the soldiers and horsemen on the page.

Although a very random book to find and purchase, I came home inspired, wanting to learn more and to practice capturing movement through simple lines and mark making.

All quotes taken from: Smith K, (1978) Constantin Guys, Crimean War Drawings 1854: The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio.

The Iron Coast…

‘For when the sea is calm [says Camden], the waters at Skengrave being spread as it were into a plain, a hideous groaning is often heard in these parts, on a sudden, and then the fishermen are afraid of the sea. They believe the ocean to be a huge monster which is then hungry and eager to glut itself with the bodies of men.’

Folklore attached to Skinningrove – taken from The Iron Coast by Jane Gardam

Bright skies greeted us driving over the North York Moors to go to the coast today. I met with my best friend on the beach at Skinningrove. A little known place with a huge stretch of sand. Steeped in history Skinningrove is a Viking name – which meant Skinners grove or pit.

At one time Skinningrove was home to a large iron works which opened in 1848. Today you can find remnants of the iron industry along the coast line.

I love the raw beauty of this coastline. The Cleveland Way coastal path runs through Skinningrove which is situated between Saltburn and Staithes, the cliffs above Skinningrove are breathtaking and pass by abandoned Alum Works where huge pits of land have been carved from the cliff. Now filled with bracken and heather they are both eery and beautiful at the same time.

I would take this coastline over any other, any day. For anyone interested in the North East Coast I highly recommend The Iron Coast by Jane Gardam which captures the visceral essence and history of the area, illustrated with black and white photographs taken by Peter Burton and Harland Waltham.

Mini Adventure: The Sumptuous Dyls Cafe in York

I can not encourage you enough to visit the gorgeous Dyls Cafe in York. Saturated in beautiful colours and a range of art work and graphics it’s a visual feast.

Based in a small tower that held the motor for moving Skeldergate Bridge in York, the cafe now has a fairy tale quality. Plants trail from windows, you follow a tight winding staircase to each floor, the top floor is a tiny round room at the top of the tower, it feels like you have been transported to another time.

I love the quirky style and humour of the decor. It’s a little adventure just spending time soaking up the atmosphere. I don’t get to go that often, but I have to say it’s my favourite cafe in York based on the interior and setting – great coffee and food too!!