Monday, 4 September 2017

A breif reading of Robert Macfarlane's, The Wild Places (2007)

One of the writers who is quoted on the cover of JA Baker's the Peregrine (2015 edition) is Robert Macfarlane: a fellow of Emmanuel College Cambridge. In 2003 with his book "Mountains of the Mind: the History of a Fascination" he won the Guardian newspaper First Book Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and various other prestigious prizes.

I was drawn to reading his book "The Wild Places", because his name is becoming synonymous with nature writing in the UK, and he is even linked to the late great WG (Max) Sebald, who taught & studied English & European Literature, (just up the road from Macfarlane's Cambridge), at the University of East Anglia.

Interestingly in Macfarlane's second chapter of The Wild Places, regarding a description of a remote island to the west of the Lleyn peninsula in North Wales, he describes the fact that this particular island, named Ynys Enlli, has served as a retreat for the Celtic Christian monks between the fifth and sixth centuries BC. Indeed, according to Macfarlane, it's possible that this island may have been inhabited for a further 500 years or so, perhaps as late as 1000 A.D.
Holy men, hermits and other spiritual individuals occupied many of the islands around Britain during that time, and these travellers, some of which had come many miles from foreign shores were known as "peregrini". Whilst this word, I had already discovered, to mean the wanderer or foreign traveller, it was nice to see this triangulated again by a contemporary author.

In a reflection of my own, I think of how I have also been peregrini, the fact that I was born in South America, living there throughout my early childhood, and then travelling some 6000 miles north east across the vast Atlantic Ocean to find a home in the UK. My travellings through my job as an adult took me all over the world, but I always returned, of course, to the area that I call home in the North.

But now, as I begin to turn the page on another chapter in my life, there are more coincidences that I find fascinating to link together. Some may see these connections as tenuous, but I believe through my deep thinking, that there is a sense of balance and appropriateness in the conjunctions that seem to validate the temporal nature of them. Yet at the same time, these links could be seen as verification against some unwritten rules of fate?

 In this case, my new journey begins with the purchase and completion of a sale of a little cottage in Northumberland, a dream that has been realised after some 15 or so years of looking and yearning to find the right place in these more remote northern lands.

Our quiet little cottage lies adjacent to St Cuthbert's Way, overlooking St Cuthbert's Cave where the canonised hermit's body was hidden from the marauding invaders of the East. Our cottage is therefore named in his honour, Cuthbert Cottage. This in itself isn't much of a coincidence, but when taken to understand that St Cuthbert (634-687) was indeed a peregrini, who found shelter in the remote Farne Islands to dedicate towards contemplation for much of his final years, it seems to make my move all that much more portentous.  That I, a potential peregrini, having chosen to spend the last year researching everything I can about peregrines and then trying to see and reinterpret their world from their point of view, then what better position could I be in to do this?

Through coincidence or just sheer luck, things have unfolded in the way that they have, and I am moved to reflect on my own journey, juxtaposing some of the elements of my own existence in a strange and uncanny mirroring of this magnificent bird of prey, as a kind of pilgrimage perhaps? Well, the word pilgrim comes from the Latin peregrinus.

So, having completed over the last few days, my final submission my Master's degree, the overwhelming personal, circumstantial evidence that has come forth, over this last year, gives me renewed determination, and faith, that what I'm doing, and how I am working appears to be absolutely right for me!

Oh, and by the way, The Welsh Island Ynys Enlli means the 'Island of Currents', (referring to tidal waters and lines of turbulance in the eddy's surrounding it), and would (during the height of scholastic monks living in remote parts of Britain) have been governed by the 'Ancient Church in Wales', who recognise St Cuthbert's day as 4th September.  That is today... The day I read Macfarlane's explanation of peregrini...

These amazing movements and collisions, of time and circumstance, provide even more food of contemplation...  Wonderful!


Macfarlane, R. (2007) The Wild Things, London, Granta Books.  

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