Three Points of the Compass seldom carries any book, beyond a journal, when hiking. Instead I keep a small library at home; to be dipped into on a whim, or referred to when trying to nail down that ‘something’ seen, or in a vain attempt to educate my failing memory in the hope that I can identify with what I see on my travels. Any walk is vastly improved and enjoyed all the more when I can put a name to some of that around me, or at least understand the relationship, the ecology of the environment through which I am hiking.
I have always purchased books. I believe a fairly well stocked, carefully chosen, library of books on the natural sciences and the people who have helped define it, should be the aim of any inquisitive mind and especially anyone that hikes on a regular basis. Those shown at the top of this page are from ‘secondary’ shelves in my house. They are a small sample of those volumes that have been relegated off of my first division shelves that sit nearest my desk.
As a young lad I bought a number of the thin volumes in the Jarrold Nature Series. I never had a lot of money and would frequently buy one or two with the extra ‘holiday spending’ I would be given on family holidays. Far better spent on these little booklets than ice creams and fairground rides I felt. The Birds of the Mountains and Moorlands shown above (volume 4 in the Jarrold Bird Series) would have been bought when we visited some such area, I forget where, when I believed these would help me in my identification of the local wildlife.
I have little regard from where my books are obtained. I have purchased new, remaindered, second-hand (and third, fourth et al) volumes aplenty. I have scoured second hand shops, libraries selling off volumes, perused dealers typewritten catalogues and, increasingly, I turn to eBay and Amazon. There are virtual spaces on my shelves too, some books I have lent, never to be returned and only infrequently replaced.
The Caterpillars of the British Butterflies volume shown above was a companion to The Butterflies of the British Isles in the Wayside and Woodland Series published by Warne. It is a second hand copy, withdrawn from the Westminster Public Libraries and sold off by them in one of their periodic clear outs and would have already been very old when I got it. This reflects a particular period of my childhood when most weekends I went out from dawn til dusk (or until hunger struck) to scour the undergrowth of woods near my home, or go fishing in the little stream or local canal, watching dragonflies, Kingfishers, Water Boatmen or catching White Clawed Crayfish in a time before the American Signal Cray invaded our waters. Caterpillars, and a clump of whatever herb I found them on, were kept at home to see what wonder might emerge from the chrysalis.
Collins were the publisher of many of the Field Guides I have purchased over the years. Some volumes reflect another era. I am almost ashamed to admit that, in common with most of my pals, we would go out ‘bird-nesting’- collecting birds eggs. I had stopped by my mid-teens and it never advanced further than the few eggs from songbirds. I am so thankful that oölogy lost its interest for me. I became far more interested in learning what came out of an egg rather than the ‘prize’ itself.
Instead, I learnt to stalk animals through the undergrowth and stream edges and went through a period of carting along packets of Plaster of Paris, purchased from the local chemists. I would make paper rings and, with the heavy contents of my rucksack, make impressions of tracks of deer, fox, badger and the great prize, water vole.
I have shown a couple of older Collins volumes in the featured image above, my shelves also groan under the weight of many a later edition, but as to getting rid of older volumes, the horror.
The Readers Digest Book of British Birds was read on many an evening when I was a boy. There were probably few bookshelves down our street that didn’t carry a copy of this particular volume with its superb painting of a glaring Tawny Owl on the front cover. I read how a roosting owl could be located by following up noisy parties of smaller birds such as Jays, Blackbirds and Chaffinches who would mob the predator. On probably hundreds of occasions I have dived into the neighbouring thick woodland, having heard the ruckus from within, in the hope of finding a roosting tawny owl, never once with any success. I still do on occasion…
Other books on natural history on my shelves are a little more eclectic. I went through a phase of no more than a year or two where I determined to learn everything I could about slugs, snails and the shells on the beach, well, who wouldn’t!
Over the next few weeks I shall blog daily on just some of the books, or sets of volumes, that sit proudly on my shelves. Some are seldom pulled out, others can be left in situ for a year or two and then sit on my desk for a month or so to be reacquainted with. Others, are works of pure reference to be consulted when bafflement descends. One or two may be deemed a classic, whatever that is and I am sure that many reading this may shake their head in dismay over my woeful choice. These will not, in any way, be book reviews, simply a brief glance at some of my favourite volumes that frequently have and often continue to make my walking experience all the greater. There are many that have not made the cut, I will not be showing my lovely old, battered (and slightly smelly) set of The Handbook of British Birds by Witherby, Jourdain, Ticehurst and Tucker for instance. And just a slight tease, my definition of ‘Giants‘ will, no doubt, raise hackles in some readers.
Books from my shelves:
The Caterpillars of the British Butterflies (including the Eggs, Chrysalids and Food-plants), R.South. Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd. 1944
The Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, David McClintock and R.S.R.Fitter. Collins, 1956
A Field Guide to the Mammals of Britain and Europe, F.H.Van Den Brink. Collins, 1967
Collins Pocket Guide to Nests and Eggs, R.S.R.Fitter and R.A.Richardson. Collins, Reprinted revised edition, 1969 (First published 1954)
Book of British Birds, Readers Digest/AA, Second Edition 1974 (first published 1969)
Identification of the British Mollusca, Gordon E. Beedham. Hulton Group Keys. Pitman Press, 1972
Birds of the Mountains and Moorlands, text by Reg Jones. Jarrold, 1974