Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Call of the Wild edited by Roly Smith

Foreword by Chris Bonington.

Part of our Wilderness Week series.

Question: What do the British Isles and the Tardis have in common?

Answer: They’re both bigger on the inside than seems remotely likely from the outside.

Geographically speaking, the British Isles are tiny. They are also crowded. Speaking of the ‘wild places’ of such a heavily populated speck on the globe would therefore, on the face of it, appear to be a nonsense.

And yet … anyone who has stood on the summit of Cross Fell, been overwhelmed by the enormity of Morecambe Bay or risked compound fractures on the limestone pavements of the Yorkshire Dales will tell you that there are more – and more diverse – wild places in the British Isles than almost anywhere else on the planet.

This beautifully produced little book from Rucksack Readers is a celebration of that diversity.

Produced to mark 25 years of the Outdoor Writers’ Guild it contains 25 highly personal short essays from members of the Guild, illustrated throughout with striking colour photographs.

Call of the Wild criss-crosses the British Isles, and the choices of some of the best known names in outdoor writing are sometimes rather surprising. The usual suspects are all present and correct – St Kilda, the Cairngorms, The Peak District, Connemara … but the Ashdown Forest, the Broads and the Hambledon and Hod Hills … and from people more closely associated with the Himalayas?

The choices that seem the most unlikely, however, are those which most effectively make one of editor Roly Smith’s introductory points that ‘wildness’ is everywhere if you know how to look, and it’s impossible not to be as seduced by Kev Reynolds’ heartfelt hymn to the Ashdown Forest as by Robert Swain on Morecambe Bay or Mike Harding on Connemara.

This is a satisfying book in every way … from the choice of photographs and words to the possibly prosaic fact that it’s just a pleasing thing to hold and read and turn the pages of. The essays – not too long and not too short – can be ‘dipped’ into at random and the whole thing is small enough to be slipped into a backpack or suitcase.

It’s also a work a love. Together, they’re a well-nigh irresistible combination.

(Photo credits: Stanage Edge, Peak District by Jerry Rawson and Pattern of Channels in Morecambe Bay by Jon Sparks.)

Rucksack Readers. 2005. Hardback. 128pp. ISBN: 1-898481-49-0.

SPECIAL OFFER: Rucksack Readers is offering readers of Vulpes Libris an exclusive £2.50 discount on online orders for Call of the Wild or any of their other publications. Just visit their online shop – – and enter ‘vulpeslibris’ in the discount code box when you order. £2.50 will be deducted from the total value of your order. The offer lasts until the 31st May.

Click here to read our interview with Jacquetta Megarry – founder and onlie begetter of Rucksack Readers – about her chosen field of specialist publishing.

25 comments on “Call of the Wild edited by Roly Smith

  1. Sam
    April 23, 2008

    Great summary, Mhairi, and some lovely images. Agree that ‘wildness is everywhere’.

    Something you said early in the piece struck me, namely that, ‘geographically speaking’ we are an ‘overcrowded’ and ‘overpopulated’ Isle. What makes you think this? It’s something I hear a lot, but it’s not my experience having lived in several cities around the country (is it yours in West Cumbria?). I can see that historically speaking there are more people here than ever before, but that would also be true for nearly every country on the planet, and they don’t all consider themselves ‘overcrowded’. Be good to get your views so I can begin to understand why people think this is the case.

  2. Mhairi
    April 23, 2008

    It’s in terms of population density, Sam – ie: the number of people per square kilometre.

    We rank considerably above the US and most of the rest of Europe.

    The UK (which admittedly is not the British Isles … and bringing the Republic of Ireland into the mix will lower the density) currently lies about 50th in the league table with something like 250 bodies-per-square-kilometre. That’s a lot less than – say – Japan – but a lot more than the US, for instance, which currently fields around 35 per square kilometre.

    Most of the UK population is, of course, crowded into the metropolitan areas … which is why we still have large tracts of substantially empty countryside, fortunately.

    So – no, it’s not my experience in West Cumbria … which is why I live here. I prefer a less crowded universe. 🙂

  3. Sam
    April 23, 2008

    Thanks for that explanation, Mhairi.

    So, if I’ve got this right, when you said ‘geographically speaking’ you meant the USA and ‘the rest of Europe’. This might lead me to think that you believe we’re ‘overcrowded’ by standards of western decadence, but, somehow, I don’t think that’s what you meant! (Though it’s probably close to what I think people mean when they say we’re ‘overcrowded’.)

    And (seeing as Rosy’s going to accuse me of nitpicking anway) having a higher population density than, say, the USA, doesn’t in itself mean we’re overcrowded, or, indeed, crowded.

  4. Lisa
    April 23, 2008

    I think my patch of Cornwall is overcrowded. WAY too many people here. Especially in summer when our population swells from something like 20,000 to eight zillion (probably more like 200,000). Plus all my lovely dog-walking fields are being turned into second homes for rich people, dog damn them all. Horses being turned out onto the streets as there’re no paddocks left. Having to shake their hats at everyone for a few coppers so they can buy hay.

    Anyway, my point is, that to me it FEELS overcrowded, despite what any statistics do or don’t suggest. One day I’m going to buy a ranch (I’ll most likely be an illegal squatter – sounds fun 😉 ) fill it with dogs and build a fack off big wall around it. With spikes on the top. And broken glass. I might even grow a beard and keep goats.

    Nice review, Mhairi.

  5. Mhairi
    April 23, 2008

    Sam … I meant globally. For our land area, we support an awful lot of people compared to Russia, Canada, the US, Scandinavia … the list goes on. I wasn’t saying anything more complicated or contentious than that.

    There’s a great little map here: which demonstrates what I mean.

    Apart from the obvious population hotspots like South East Asia and India, vast swathes of the planet are almost empty. The world’s population is concentrated in certain areas – and the UK is one of them. Fortunately our standard of living is generally high, and our infrastructure reasonably sound (comparatively speaking) so we cope and most of us don’t feel cramped or crowded.

    (Windermere in August isn’t much fun, though.)

    Lisa – I used to live in North Cornwall – on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I’ve heard reports that make me not want to go back.

  6. rosyb
    April 23, 2008

    Hello, as a member of a family that loves walking (particularly a mad dad of that ilk) I was wondering what kind of walker the book is aimed at – and whether it includes maps and suggestions of walks that someone like me (can walk but not great without a bit of guidance, descriptions and followable directions) could follow or whether it is aimed more at someone like Dad (happy with compass, no paths, wicked terrain and force nine gale).

  7. Mhairi
    April 23, 2008

    It’s not actually a walking guide as such, Rosy. It’s more of a sitting-in-front-of-the-fire-with-a-mug-of-cocoa-and-dreaming-of-summer-hillsides book. There are no maps or suggested routes – just photographs and the narratives.

    It’s the sort of book that would suit either an experienced walker or a novice … in that it describes parts of the country that you might not otherwise have considered going walking in. The Ashdown Forest, for instance, is not somewhere I know much about — but I’m thoroughly curious now.

  8. Sam
    April 23, 2008

    Thanks, Mhairi, but I do there’s a world of difference between saying Britain has a high population density and saying (actually quite complicated and contentious) things like ‘overcrowded’ and ‘overpopulated’. It sounds like you meant the former, which is fine by me. 🙂

  9. Amy
    April 23, 2008

    I do believe that people are more important than dogs or horses.

  10. Mhairi
    April 23, 2008

    Sam … I actually take your point and I agree. (You may pick yourself up off the floor at your leisure …).

    I’ve changed it to ‘heavily populated’. Better? :mrgreen:

  11. Lisa
    April 23, 2008

    “I do believe that people are more important than dogs or horses”

    So say the people. The dogs and horses might beg to differ 😉

  12. Jackie
    April 23, 2008

    A world in which dogs and horses are happy is also a better world for people.
    This sounds like a lovely book, Mhari, it would seem to work for both armchair travelers and actual hikers. I like how you praise the physical qualities of the book, too, something that is so often overlooked, but definitely adds to the reading experience. Remember how the size of the Beatrix Potter books made them even more perfect?
    How generous of Rucksack Readers to make the special discount offer! Really nice of them.

  13. Sam
    April 23, 2008

    Thanks, Mhairi.

    You may be surprised to learn that it never gives me pleasure to correct my fellow scribes. It only fills me with sadness, but it’s something I feel I have to do. It’s a burden – nay (or maybe ‘neigh’ given the above comments), a duty – that I shoulder. My middle name is Atlas.

    Now, if you could just change ‘overcrowded’ to ‘has a high population density when compared to other countries, notably in the west and also Japan and maybe some sub-Saharan places, though that may be to do with their people’s short life-spans’, then I think we’ll all be happy.

  14. Mhairi
    April 23, 2008

    Well, Samuel Atlas my old mucker … much as I’d love to oblige and all … I think that aesthetically speaking it would rather bugger up the flow of the paragraph … :mrgreen:

    However, you will get Brownie Points for spotting a further tweak I decided on whilst languishing in the bath …

  15. Sam
    April 23, 2008

    Aw, I’ve seen it. Well done, Mhairi. That took guts. Have a biscuit.

  16. Amy
    April 23, 2008

    Yes, I’m not getting into all this inelegant arguing. Of course I want dogs and horses to be happy, and it’s in everyone’s interests to preserve wildlife and open spaces. But at the end of the day, human needs *have* to take precedence.

  17. Lisa
    April 23, 2008

    So say the humans…:)

  18. Lisa
    April 23, 2008

    I’m just trying to point out that of course humans think they’re more important. They are humans!

  19. Amy
    April 23, 2008

    So if you could only save either a child or a dog, you’d save the dog?????

  20. Lisa
    April 23, 2008

    I’d use the dog to save the child, Timmy from Famous Five style 🙂 🙂

  21. Amy
    April 23, 2008

    I just think, you know, no one would ever actually dispute that humans are more important, obviously the only people who can say that are necessarily humans themselves…..and nearly all of the value that is put on animals and wildlife, is due to their utility to humans ie in terms of relaxation, medicine, transport, food, etc. If people became extinct it wouldn’t really matter any more if there weren’t any animals left, because there would be no one around to appreciate them anyway. We want to preserve wildlife for the next generation, but if there was no next generation, we wouldn’t care.

  22. Lisa
    April 23, 2008

    I do see that point. But I suppose if no humans were around, then the remaining species might still appreciate each other. Indeed they might appreciate other species too. My cat and dog, for instance, have something of a love thang 🙂 Mind you, I bet the moment the food supply dried up it’d be claws at ten paces. And then they’d appreciate each other in new ways. Like as food 😉

    I’m not trying to offend you, Amy, truly. I’m just trying to imagine a non-human way of looking at things.

    But yes, even if I knew there was no next generation of humans, I would still care about the other species on earth. You see now why my husband calls me a tree-hugging hippy 🙂

  23. RosyB
    April 23, 2008

    Ah people. Here I was, pottering along wondering why such a uncontentious (so I thought) post could have caused so many comments.

    I think a little bit of slack needs to be cut here, maybe?

    So why don’t we all stop fighting and…go off and order a nice book about walking. Hmm? Mmmm? You know it makes sense. 🙂

  24. Mhairi
    April 23, 2008

    Amy – If you have any comments to make relevant to the book or my review of it, please feel free to make them. Otherwise, I must ask you to leave this thread.

    I’ve taken it upon myself, as Co-Admin of VL, to remove one of your comments. It’s not something I’ve done lightly, but we have a strict policy of not allowing abusive or defamatory posts.

  25. Pingback: An Interview with Jacquetta Megarry of Rucksack Readers. « Vulpes Libris

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