Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes
by Nick Hunt
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Pub Date 26 Oct 2021 | Archive Date 09 Feb 2023
In Outlandish, acclaimed travel writer Nick Hunt takes us across landscapes that should not be there, wildernesses found in Europe yet seemingly belonging to far-off continents: a patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland; the continent's largest surviving remnant of primeval forest in Poland and Belarus; Europe's only true desert in Spain; and the fathomless grassland steppes of Hungary.
From snow-capped mountain range to dense green forest, desert ravines to threadbare, yellow open grassland, these anomalies transport us to faraway regions of the world. More like pockets of Africa, Asia, the Poles or North America, they make Europe seem larger, stranger and more filled with secrets.
Against the rapid climate breakdown of deserts, steppes and primeval jungles across the world, this book discovers the outlandish environments so much closer to home - along with their abundant wildlife: reindeer; bison; ibex; wolves and herds of wild horses. Blending sublime travel writing, nature writing and history - by way of Paleolithic cave art, reindeer nomads, desert wanderers, shamans, Slavic forest gods, European bison, Wild West fantasists, eco-activists, horseback archers, Big Grey Men and other unlikely spirits of place - these desolate and rich environments show us that the strange has always been near.
“Vivid, moving, profound and sometimes very funny...Outlandish is a truly stunning work of non-fiction and an important addition to writing that explores the deep connections between ourselves and our place on Earth.”
— Joanna Pocock, author of Surrender
“Nick Hunt is splendid company: kind, acute and wise, with an unerring eye for eloquent detail and a philosopher's view of the big picture. Don't miss this walk with him through portals you'd never stumble across yourself, and on into the thrilling surprise of a wholly improbable Europe”
—Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast
“Outlandish is filled with boundless energy and insatiable curiosity yet it is gloriously gentle, too, carefully and elegantly steering us towards new ways of seeing our world”
—Caroline Eden, author of Black Sea
“Precise, moving and exacting in its prose, this embodied and emotional journey gives the near world a fresh urgency, and makes it suddenly curious”
—Helen Jukes, author of A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings
“An enchanting collection”
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 66 members
As we stumble out of our Covid lockdowns, Hunt’s book provides fresh fodder for intrepid travelers looking for something different. He visits places that should not exist, like ab area in Scotland that would look more at home in a polar region. Along with fascinating geographical details, Hunt entertains readers with the stories of the unusual characters he meets along the way. A must read whether you are itching to hit the “friendly skies” or if you’re doing your traveling from an armchair.
I've read and enjoyed Nick Hunt's previous two travel/walking books, and 'Outlandish' does not disappoint. In fact, it's his deepest and richest so far, lent a new urgency by the growing spectre of climate breakdown. What I thought was a project rooted in pure curiosity turned out to be something more speculative, more fearful.
The opening section of the book is spent in the Cairngorms, among snow and reindeer. There is something a little obligatory-feeling to the descriptions of hiking and Nan Shepherd quotes, but Hunt's prose is beautiful without being pretentious. The wheel begins to turn in the Białowieża section as Hunt touches upon conflicts between loggers, locals and environmentalists, but it's in the third and fourth sections of the book - the Almeria desert in Spain, and the steppe of Hortobágy National Park in Hungary where everything truly clicks into place. To paraphrase the author, these places may be outlandish at this moment, but soon, thanks to climate breakdown, they will no longer be alone; everywhere will be outlandish.
It's a book that is as heartbreaking as it is fascinating, and there is an especially moving scene involving a birder in Hortobágy. I will not forget it. This is nature/travel writing with a deep and painful bite.
(With thanks to Nicholas Brealey and NetGalley for this ebook in exchange for an honest review)
This was a book that touched my core. I loved the narrative and the way the author portrayed the four journeys to profoundly different, unique European landscapes; landscapes that are often shadows of their former selves.
What Nick Hunt did was to take me to the places through his writing and immersed me in it. I felt what he felt and through the text, I saw what he saw and I was transported to the destinations, with each sentence. The writing was both evocative and thought-provoking, and what makes the book a delightful rounded read is the interesting references to the history, culture, language, and geography, which are sprinkled through the book.
The final twist in the tale though is the serious issues the book embraces; the impact of humans on the natural environment and the serious effect that climate change is having on the world, again the descriptions are well-thought-out and considered. This was a book that I didn’t want to end.
This was a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish with a great storyline, interesting cast of characters and all capped off by skilful writing. It's well worth your time if you appreciate great storytellers.
The author brings the reader on an interesting journey to rarely visited parts of Europe. Definitely a walk on the wild side with tales of some truly unique landscapes. Written in a manner that makes the reader almost see what the author saw during his enviable journeys. The author also weaves some important environmental message throughout the story. Readers are sure to finish this book learning something new about Europe.
Fascinating look at unusual landscapes across Europe. Surprising and illuminating. I enjoyed finding out about these areas in beautiful prose.
Outlandish is a book about misplaced landscapes, parts of the world found in the wrong part of the world. I was hooked the moment I read the blurb – I’m always fascinated by writing that manages to make the familiar strange, capturing new and uncanny strands in places we thought we already knew. Outlandish does this so very well, wandering between Scotland, Poland, Spain and Hungary in search of environments that feel out of place: Arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland, desert in Spain and grassland steppes in Hungary. The places seem to exist as a glimpse of the past, deep time lingering into the present, echoing with a warning for the future.
The first section, on Scotland, is an incredible piece of writing. Hunt perfectly captures the mood of the Scottish landscape, moving in turn from beautiful to eerie to lonely, vast in scope and atmosphere. Respect for the mountains is balanced with a great love with them, and Hunt adds a reassuring touch of humour and lightness when needed.
The desert in Spain is the other section that has really stayed with me. Hunt conveys such a strong sense of the layers of time: different moments in human history stacked on top of each other, separate but brought close, as if all happening simultaneously, intrinsically linked. The contrast between the timelessness and emptiness of the desert landscape and the mentions of areas where movies where filmed, of Hunt ‘traipsing in the director’s footsteps’, is sharp and jarring – the incongruity of this perfectly highlights the selfish human uses of the landscape.
It would be impossible to write a book so full of love and curiosity for the land without mentioning the growing fear of climate change. Hunt’s concern for the future of the places – and for humanity – comes across clear and stark. It’s a valuable reminder that the world does not exist around humans – that the landscapes have existed before us and will continue to exist after us, and how human life is only damaging these places, not helping them flourish. The calm isolation of these places – coupled with Hunt’s quiet warnings about climate change – marks humanity as an intrusion on the landscape.
Outlandish is a powerful and fascinating wander through Europe, laced through with beautiful and vivid prose. I really enjoyed this and will definitely be keeping an eye out for Hunt’s other two books
(Thanks to NetGalley and Nicholas Brealey for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.)
This set of travel reports takes us to the desert, jungle, arctic and savanna - without leaving Europe. Nick Hunt has visited several paces in Europe that we wouldn't expect to exist here. He shows us these places but also tells the reader about their history and ultimately guides our gaze to the destruction of the wonderful nature that surrounds us.
Nick Hunt is not one to preach, it's more like him seeing these precious places of nature and mourning their counterparts - the ones that have already been lost. He likes to immerge himself into the landscape - sometimes not successfully, but he wants to understand it, feel it.
As a biologist I know how urgent the topic of disappearing biodiversity is and I'm glad it has such a prominent focus in Nick Hunt's essays. The promise of strangeness lured me in but the melancholy and the feeling of loss got me - even though I know what is happening with our nature.
Outlandish is a special and important kind of read because it not only takes us to certain places, but it makes the reader really SEE them, and in turn, care about them.
I could really envision a journey around Europe while reading Outlandish by Nick Hunt. Visiting these unfamiliar areas with landscape features that are so different from what you think the region should look like as a whole. Reading about a desert in Spain and a patch of arctic tundra in Scotland along with other unexpected natural environments and wildlife heightened my sense of wanderlust . I really enjoyed this unique take on travel writing and am even more ready to explore different parts of the world now. Thank you to Nick Hunt, NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC.
This is some of the smartest travel writing I have ever read. It's also impeccably copy edited; there's not so much as a typo.
When I started reading this book, I didn't realize the author was involved in the Dark Mountain Project, writing that has helped me think more deeply about climate disruption and about how to feel in the absence of any likely control of the coming rise in temperatures and sea levels. In an age when people can naturally feel quite conflicted about taking a long-haul flight, writing like this becomes essential to give us a clear idea of place and the feeling that we were there appreciating it too.
There is a lot to learn here, about exclaves and the parts of Europe in which they are found. But above all there is a lot to enjoy in this book: awe at the world's natural beauty, about how that beauty informed the mythology and folklore handed down to us from the people who lived in these exclaves, who perhaps initially set out from elsewhere, perhaps even as part of ancient climate migrations of their own. And about the very natural grief we can feel as we see animals, trees and snows disappear from the landscape. Even from a language perspective (my professional area of expertise), the book is comprehensively researched. I won't forget anytime soon how the name "Poland" derives from an ancient word for clearing.
Above all, this book is generous and credits the reader with keen intelligence and understanding. Nothing is oversimplified. Any rereading I did of sentences or paragraphs wasn't because they were overly complex but because of the pleasure I took in reading them.
I have already mentioned this book in class (even though I teach French!) and look forward to reading more of this author's work.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
I really liked this book! I was excited to read it from the description and it didn't disappoint. This book also really made me want to start going on long walks and hikes alone. If you are like me and enjoy books about long walks/adventures in the outdoors (such as Wild by Cheryl Strayed), then you would love this too. I also really felt it was a similar writing style to Robert Macfarlane's Underland, full of both a play-by-play of the actual adventure, facts about the environment around him, and poetic prose. However, I found Robert Macafarlane's writing a bit too poetic and dreamy, while Nick Hunt's writing is definitely purely nonfiction- which I loved much more.
I actually don't think I have a favorite chapter, and the author's stories about each European wilderness were equally lovely to read. From snowy reindeer encounters in Cairngorm National Park in Scotland, to exploring the primeval Białowieża forest in Poland and Belarus, to walking through the Spanish desert and old Western film sets during a dangerous heatwave, to riding around the vast Hungarian steppe among an unexpected mixture of East, West, nationalism, and conservation- I learned so much about these places and it felt like I was walking right there with the author. Definitely recommend!
Outlandish is a beautifully written account of expeditions through four “Outlands” of Europe — locations that seem ripped away from their natural locales. Tundra in Scotland, Jungle in Poland/Belarus, Desert in Spain, and Steppe in Hungary.
I found the Tundra and Desert chapters most compelling, perhaps because of the deep connections to climate change, one disappearing, the other encroaching further and further. Hunt really has a way with storytelling in all four chapters though, I’m not sure there could be a better introduction to these four areas than to read this book.