Wanderland by Jini Reddy

4 out of 5 stars

People visit the countryside for a variety of different reasons, some for the pleasure of being away from a screen, some for the fresh air and others for some more serious rest and relaxation. There are plenty of guides that you can buy that suggest places to go and things to do, but there are times when some people want to find their own way and set their own agenda.

Reddy is a London based journalist who has had an unconventional and multicultural upbringing. With this outsiders perspective, she sets off on a journey to the English countryside to seek the spiritual and the magical where ever it exists. But rather than go to the classical spiritual sites of the UK , Reddy chooses to find her own paths and use her own inner compass as a guide. This personal pilgrimage had started up a mountain in the Pyrenees with a tent, nine bottles of water and, er, that was it. Alone in the tent the first night she heard a strange voice, terrified, she lay still for a couple of minutes that it lasted and it went as suddenly as it came. To this day she does not know what it was that made that sound, but it led to her wanting to know more about the spirit of the natural world.

It was the beginning of a journey that would take her all over the UK, to the far west in Cornwall, to visit a labyrinth on a farm and is soothed by the sound of birds and the sea. To High Weald in Sussex to search for the search for a spring with magical qualities and onto Herefordshire to meet a lady who has a ‘kenning’ or ‘knowing’ of the plants and animals that surround her. Lindisfarne is also on her travel list, to stay in a Christian retreat house and listen to the silence. Reddy has a passion for trees too and she arranges a trip arrange to Derwent Valley to meet a tree whisperer and she is lucky enough to get to visit the Ash Dome, a piece of living art created by the sculptor David Nash, high in the welsh hills, a place where the 22 trees have been grown together in the shape of a vortex. There is the obligatory visit to Glastonbury, a place where the magic has been expressed in retail form…

A sizeable portion of recent writing about the outdoors and landscape is about what the author can take from it, how it inspired them or was there as a crutch for their own health and wellbeing. And they are good reads, picking up on the connections that we have long lost to the natural world. A lot of this writing has been from predominately white male writers, with female authors only starting to get a look-in in the past few years. Reddy is a breath of fresh air in this camp, as she writes from a perspective from her family heritage and multicultural upbringing. She draws deep on all these facets and elements of her mother’s Hindu faith to explore the countryside in a way that I have not come across before. I really liked it because of that, she is prepared to embrace the activities that she has chosen, whilst still being a touch sceptical about it. It is also a reminder that the natural world is more than just the picturesque, there are thin places that have always had special significance to people over millennia. As an aside, it has an absolutely beautiful cover. If this sort of book interests you, I can also recommend Rising Ground by Philip Marsden, it focuses more on the spiritual legacy left behind in the landscape.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh this sounds brilliant, I have got it on my wish list already but might need to promote it! And I am currently reading Rising Ground, although I’ve not had a good enough chunk of solid time with it recently.

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