Meadowland : The Private Life of an English Field, Paperback Book

Meadowland : The Private Life of an English Field Paperback

5 out of 5 (1 rating)


WINNER OF THE THWAITES WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2015What really goes on in the long grass?Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow's life from January to December, together with its biography.

In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren,the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others.

Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: The countryside, country life
  • ISBN: 9780552778992

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While I might try and hide this from my sophisticated, urban and urbane colleagues, I am, at heart, a simple country boy. I have now lived in London for more than thirty years but I grew up on the fringes of a small hamlet which itself languished in the vague hinterland of a small provincial town in North Leicestershire. I am sure that such biographical detail must seem insignificant - even otiose in the extreme - though I feel it does give some provenance to my claim to know more than a little about meadows. Not as much as John Lewis-Stempel, though; not by a long chalk.Even at the most superficial level, as a journal describing the changes in his meadow in Herefordshire throughout the course of one year, this is a beautiful book. He makes the meadow come alive. In modern parlance the term 'meadow' has come to mean any rough pastureland near a stream or river, though the designation originally referred to a field left as grass for the specific purpose of being converted to hay. In Lewis-Stempel's account, though, the meadow is so much more than merely a pasture land and source of winter fodder. It is a haven for a huge range of flora and fauna, that Lewis-Stempel describes with deep affection.The farm, which straddles the River Ecsley just a mile from the Welsh border, has been in Lewis-Stempel's family for generations, stretching back at least as far as the early seventeenth century, and he seems to know every inch of it, and almost every creature. In addition to his encyclopaedic knowledge of the cyclical comings and goings of the meadow's inhabitants, which he describes with endearing affection, Lewis-Stempel offers fascinating insights into the linguistic history of the names of the plants and creatures he describes. I did wonder how much farm work he managed to do as every time he ventures into the meadow he encounters yet another amazing sight, which he recounts with pellucid, beautiful prose. Strewn with literary quotations from as diverse a range of sources as Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Lily and Wordsworth, and peppered with historical glosses detailing the use of the land by his Roman and Anglo-Saxon predecessors farming this tract of land. He delivers enthralling vignettes about the natural history of the mole and the badger, and describes the mayhem wrought upon his newly-born lambs by swooping red kites.The book is immensely informative, too. For instance, he takes the reader through Hooper's Rule, for estimating the age of a hedge row (for a simple rule of thumb, multiply the number of different hedge species identified within a thirty yard stretch, and then multiply by one hundred). He peppers the description with gems from the history of farming, and thumbnail sketches of the gradual development of the tractor, though even here he rues the fact that the greater comfort now available to the farmer had removed him from his former closer contact with the land, insulating him in his cabin from the breeze and scents of the different stretches of the land.This book was utterly enchanting. Elysian, even.

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