What is it about caves? An irresistibly enchanting hidey-hole to any small child and yet the birthplace of our deepest fears. Dragons, narguns, goblins, and gorgons are all born of caves, and yet who can go past an opening in the rock without peeking in? We cannot resist exploring this underworld of darkness which seems to provide safety from the perils outside, whi ... More
Walking is the quintessence of human travelling. No other means so involves us in the place through which we move or makes us so aware of our bodies’ presence in it. Early in his book, John Blay writes: ‘walking has become thought. I feel I am in dialogue with nature, I understand it is telling me what I need to know.’ We can stretch Blay’s ‘nature’ to i ... More
The Western Isles arch across the north-west coast of Scotland, sheltering the mainland from the North Sea’s fury. In summer there are few places more magical than these islands, which Seton Gordon once described as standing ‘on the rim of the material earth’ looking west to the immortal realm of Tir nan Og.
On the northern islands, granite and gneiss ... More
Samuel Johnson had some advice for aspiring writers. ‘Read over your compositions,’ he said, ‘and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’ One imagines the impact of this recommendation on an eighteenth-century student of literature, clutching a page of overblown rhetorical flourishes and faux erudition. Our cr ... More
Australia’s birds stand out from the global avian pack in many ways – ecologically, behaviourally, because some ancient lineages survive here, and because many species are endemic. The ancestors of more than half of the planet’s ten thousand bird species (the songbirds) evolved right here (eastern Gondwana) before spreading across the world. Indeed, Tim Low cl ... More
The last photographs taken of Jean Galbraith show a wrinkled woman in her eighties, with wispy hair pulled back in a bun, wearing round tortoiseshell spectacles, thick stockings, and sensible shoes – the kind of person you might expect to see serving behind the counter of a country post office early last century, or pouring en ... More
In this age of throwaway digital images it is easy to forget that before the late nineteenth century the only means of conveying a visual image of an object or place was by drawing its likeness. For this reason, well-funded exploratory expeditions often included an artist whose role was to illustrate new and interesting people, landscapes, geological features, anima ... More