Robert MacFarlane Unedited

Woodland at night.

The gale licked about, so I skirted the lee side of the dyke. I walked from houses and streets: which had thinned to sheds and bridleways, and then farms and paths drawn with an inch or two strip of brown on a field-side.

This venture had begun when I had felt the need to leave a public house in the village and seek isolated places. I was glad to be back stumbling through the familiar woods, grasping a half-full bottle, minus its cap, in one hand.

I spent several minutes attempting to climb a promising looking beech, hugging it tightly with one arm, holding the bottle out delicately and scrambling rapidly with both legs. After a few tries I decided that remaining still at the base of the tree was probably better. I told the beech to be quiet and remain still. I christened the tree ‘Sisyphus’ then nature called and I christened the tree again.

The root-spread at the base of a beech can be long and meandering with the limbs pouring over one another in a stationary cascade: not the fins of a plain tree or clean dive of a silver birch.  I could not say where my love of the study of the base of trees began but sitting in the new moist angle of a friend I felt the need to be away from the centre of Cambridge, away from the citied places, and back to the crevices of Scotland where I had last listened to the rasp of corncrakes.

The bloated moon lit the path out to a cold field where the earth had been turned ready for spring planting. Somewhere on its borders a sedge warbler or perhaps a talented badger called out. I joined in for several minutes with a concomitant version of Those Were The Days My Friends.

I was unsure if I was an outsider to nature or an outsider to civilisation: a stranger in the strange land of the man-moulded landscape, struggling to cross back through the looking glass separating the two perceptions. Straight above me the stars hung: vertiginously below when the mind flips to downward in open places. I heard the gentle crash of the empty bottle splintering somewhere behind me where its arc had come to an end. Bury me where my arrow falls.  I decided to spend the night there.


Orwell, George, Down and Out In Cambridge And Edinburgh (London 1933)


  1. Ahem, I think it's worth pointing out that this parody is meant with the greatest respect. We saw the man himself speak at Fulbourn Library - he was very charming and the notion of this 'homage' came afterwards.


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