Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape

Jini Reddy

Bloomsbury, £16.99

ONE of the dangers of reading nature writing is that it can leave you feeling like a fool. You realise that you don’t know the difference between a chiffchaff and a willow warbler, nor tell silver ragwort from borage.

And so, one of the small pleasures of Jini Reddy’s new book Wanderland, is that its author is happy to admit she is “plant illiterate,” too. Indeed, throughout the book there is never a sense that Reddy is trying to impart her great knowledge. Instead, she is on a quest to learn herself.

Reddy is an Asian writer who was born and lives in London, after growing up in Montreal. She is an urbanite who, inspired by a strange experience in the Pyrenees, sets out on a quest to find a sense of magic in the landscape.

It’s a journey that takes her to Glastonbury, Iona and Lindisfarne, and into encounters with tree-huggers, Goddess-worshippers, shamans and land artists. The result is equal parts enlightenment and exasperation.

Reddy is a wonderfully human guide. She is insecure, impatient, and, yes, sceptical. She also wants to believe in the idea of magic, but isn’t convinced when she encounters those who tell her she can find it in the zodiac or ancient myths.

Part of that, she points out, is because those ancient myths don’t feel like they belong to her. Wanderland manages to lightly raise the question of how a woman of colour finds a place in the British landscape.

Thankfully – in Fingal’s Cave or on Lindisfarne – she does. It is in these moments that Reddy reminds us that sometimes we don’t need to connect with our ancient stories or belief systems. The only connection with nature you need is to sense you are a part of it.

And so, on Lindisfarne, lying alone on a beach, she finds a sense of peace and, yes, magic. “You move through loneliness and disconnection,” she writes, “and you get to this, if you’re lucky.”

Sometimes, it’s not just about the learning. It’s about the feeling, too.

Nature on TV

Climbing Blind, BBC Four, Wednesday, 9pm

This documentary follows the attempt of Jesse Dufton to become the first blind person to lead a climb up the Old Man of Hoy.