Simon Barnes’s new book is a very readable collection of stories, memories and short essays on places that are important to him – all with a strong link to the natural world. I enjoyed reading them. And I enjoyed the illustrations by Pam Guhrs-Carr too.
I wasn’t completely convinced that the book deserved the handicap of the subtitle ‘A search for humanity’s heartland’ though it was also something of a relief that the book wasn’t that pretentious. We are offered the thought that we all have a special place which is secret and special, hidden and enclosed and that to love such a place is part of being human. I doubt it actually. I’m pretty sure George Osborne doesn’t have one – if he does I wonder what it looks like. Are its birds ‘slightly more exotic, slightly more confiding’? And is ‘the grass greener and the fruit sweeter’? No, and that’s the trouble, some wouldn’t recognise a sacred combe if they stumbled across one: and if they did, they’d probably build a supermarket on it.
But Simon Barnes does get nature in a deep and passionate way, and he writes about it with both knowledge and feeling, and he writes with clarity and humour too.
Do you know the song of the Willow Warbler – no, really know it? And have you walked too close to lions or stamped muddy footprints over the carpet because you had to hurry to get your binoculars to look at Cranes flying over? Have you sat and watched a pack of African Wild Dogs at home as some set off for a hunt? If you have, or if you can imagine doing these things and know that they would be important to your life, then you will like this book, I believe.
The Luangwa Valley with its large cats, elephants and exotic birds is Barnes’s sacred combe.
The Sacred Combe by Simon Barnes is published by Bloomsbury.