Monday, 7 October 2019

Book review - John Lewis-Stempel - The wood - the life and times of Cockshutt Wood

"A wood is different to a forest. A wood is wild, but not so wild it is frightening. You cannot get physically lost in a wood, only spiritually and imaginatively absorbed." from the Preface.

This morning I finished reading John Lewis-Stempel's  - The wood. I've seen his writing recommended in several places and thought it was time to dip my toes. A diary based on his last year living with a mixed woodland as part of his farm in Herefordshire it's peppered with beautiful haunting imagery, practical observations, wry humour, poetry, quotations and even the odd recipe. This is wood managed in the old way - livestock is grazed here, "pests" shot and usually eaten, wood and other crops harvested and room made for nature in a practical part-of-everyday life way. It is not a woodland left to run wild, it's not a playground, it is a core part of his life.
There is joy, sadness, beauty and cruelty - after all nature does it all and this is a diary. I enjoyed the style of the writing and found it really easy to follow which was unexpected as I'm not a huge non-fiction reader by habit. The vegetarian in me wasn't offended by the hunting or husbandry descriptions - the writing is just too matter-of-fact, this is how it is, for that kind of nonsense to creep in. I also learned things in that gentle way you do when the writing is easy and facts generously shared - I didn't realise we call people crabby because of the tartness of the crab apple or that a shrew only lives for a year, I didn't know about tree hay used to supplement animal feed nor that grey squirrels will eat baby birds and eggs.

I'd also never heard this beautiful poem of Rudyard Kipling's set to music before but was inspired to see if it had on reading it in the midsummer entries:

This is a thoroughly recommended read and I think I might be heading off to find others of his soon.

There are no pictures of the book itself as I borrowed this one from my local library using their free Ebook service and as it is Libraries Week this week I thought they deserved a plug. Warwickshire use Borrow Box for Ebooks and Eaudio and I've found it really easy to use, wherever you are I'm sure  your local libraries will have similar services to supplement the traditional print ones as well as so much else going on so why not check it out?

(Disclaimer: I worked for Warwickshire Libraries until my diagnosis but that's by the by!)

Want to find a copy of the book?
Ebook ISBN:9781473542532
Print ISBN:9780857524584


  1. I've not read this one of his, but have read some others. His book about living for a year on wild food was a bit weird!

    1. funnily enough that year gets a passing mention in this one. I got the feeling he struggled somewhat!

  2. I have bought most of his books. I am reading The Wood at the moment. I have got Still Water to read but I don't want to hurry this book . I love his observations and his writing.

  3. Thanks Caz. Tossing up between The Meadow or The hare one I think for the next but there are a few other books ahead of them in the reading queue at the moment so holding off borrowing them for now

  4. It's funny how you wrote about live stock shot and eaten, I was reading the other day that we all depend on eating each other in this world and when you look at it, that is exactly what we do, humans and animals alike.
    Looks like my kind of book will take a look.

  5. I've not heard of him. Crabby is a word I often use to describe myself when I'm feeling grumpy.

    1. it's a brilliant word that we used often growing up - just never realised where it came from


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