Atkins, W. (2014) The Moor, Lives – Landscape – Literature Faber ISBN 978 0 571 29004 8
“Atkins may be a solitary wanderer across these vast expanses, but his journey is full of encounters, busy with the voices of the moors, past and present: murderers and monks, smugglers and priests, gamekeepers and ramblers, miners and poets, developers and environmentalists. As he travels, he shows us that the fierce landscapes we associate with Wuthering Heights and The Hound of the Baskervilles are far from being untouched wildernesses. Daunting and defiant, the moors echo with tales of a country and the people who live in it – a mighty, age-old landscape standing steadfast against the passage of time.”
Faber & Faber – publicity blurb…
An alert and knowledgable guide, William Atkins is a great researcher, and a sometime good storyteller, but I found The Moor formless and misty despite his evident passion for the subject, his great turn of phrase, even the poetry of his writing. It’s a book that lacks warmth, and heart, and perhaps that’s the point given the subject matter.
The foreword describes The Moor as a ‘deeply personal journey’, but I felt none of that. After some 300+ pages of reading, I knew no more about the writer than at the outset. was a sameness about large parts of the book – perhaps a more rigorous editing would have cropped it to something more manageable, certainly there felt to be a great book trying to get out from the engulfing mass of words, words.
I read about the physicality of the journey but rarely felt it, the little personal touches that help humanise a narrative and encourage you to care about the unfolding dramas of a solitary journey were too often absent.
We are, broadly speaking, in Robert Macfarlane territory here (though Atkins is less given to overwriting than Macfarlane), geology patiently giving way on the path to poetry, botany resting at a stile while social history clambers by.
Rachel Cooke, review inThe Observer, 25 May 2014
The book is an ambitious mix of history, topography, literary criticism and nature writing, and yes, you do learn a lot about moors:
“…how widely they differ, despite their reputation for monotony; how many people you run into while walking across them, despite their seeming emptiness; how heavily contested they are, despite being deemed unfit for human habitation. He meets farmers, monks, ornithologists, gamekeepers, prisoners (at HMP Dartmoor), soldiers and walkers “for whom walking was not quite a matter of pleasure”.
Blake Morrison, review in The Guardian, 08 May 2014
and it’s not without physical and emotional hardship, the moors after all are unforgiving terrain, yet I came away with no abiding image, no deeper understanding of a central argument, admiration yes, but not connection.
“What remains unclear is what he wants from the moors. Often Atkins seems to go on his walks in search of stories only to return with a few relics and little narrative closure. That might be the point, of course. When he gets to Cranmere Pool, in the heart of Dartmoor, Atkins reflects on the arbitrariness of his destination – the pool is nothing more than a foxhole scraping, designed to lure tourists to an otherwise unexceptional spot. The moor, sublime in its endless sameness, is “barren, featureless, self-similar”, and so becomes a place of manufactured pilgrimage.”
Jon Day, review in The Telegraph, 07 Jun 2014
Video Clip: Perhaps William Atkins can explain the premise of The Moor better in his own words in this clip…