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Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills…

Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Neil Ansell (Author)

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745254,078 (4.19)4
Neil Ansell spent five years living between the back of beyond and the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, gas or water in a dilapidated cottage rented for 100 per year. Deep Country shares his experience.
Title:Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills
Authors:Neil Ansell (Author)
Info:Penguin (2012), 224 pages
Collections:Your library

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Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills by Neil Ansell (2011)



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A remarkable elegy to the joys of a solitary existence, long walks in the hills, overnight stays on the moors, journeys along nearby river courses, keen observations of the lives of birds and animals with the overall message that being alone does not mean being lonely. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jan 20, 2019 |
Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills - Neil Ansell ***

I came across this in a small book store, I have never heard of the author but as I live in South Wales I thought it may be worth a read. I usually love reading the odd nature book and thought it may have been something similar to a James Herriot novel, especially as it was nonfiction.

Neil Ansell decides to throw away the shackles of life and spend five years as almost a hermit in a small cottage on a hillside in Mid Wales. This basically means living without many of the amenities we take for granted on a daily basis, and although there is a village only a few miles away he is left mostly alone with only nature for company. To most this seems an idyllic lifestyle, and something I wish I was able to and/or brave enough to try for myself, but it is obviously with its own ups and downs. Neil isn’t afraid to make this sound exactly as it is and doesn’t sugar coat the experience. The book is written in almost chronological order with a dozen or so pages dedicated to each passing season, we learn how the landscape changes and how nature must also adapt to survive.

My main issue, and the reason I struggled to enjoy most of the book, is that it really should have been titled something else.... something similar to:

‘5 Years in a Cottage and the Birds Surrounding it’.

Which would be a brilliant read if you were someone that has a fascination for birds...? I unfortunately don’t. And if I had realised that a vast proportion of the book would be dedicated to our feathered friends I would never have taken it to the checkout. I mean, I like birds... and the occasional mention doesn’t do any harm, but this was literally pages and pages describing their lifecycles and habits. I really wanted more focus on how he survived, the aspects of foraging for food, his rationing, his baking, his growing his own produce, dealing with the loneliness etc. I expected Ray Mears and got Bill Oddie...

Don’t get me wrong, the book is extremely well written and at times almost poetic in its descriptions and I can see why it has received the acclaim it has, just maybe it should have been placed in the ornithology section.... ( )
  Bridgey | Dec 28, 2017 |
I began this once, soon after I bought it and put it aside. I don't dislike birds, but I'm not very interested in them and it seemed too full of birdwatching. Yesterday I picked it up again and persisted, and read right through to the end. I'm glad I did, because the birds, in which he is deeply interested, are symbolic of his deep relationship with the landscape. If I were brave enough to do what he did I suppose I would do same through flora rather than fauna. I loved the accounts of jam-making (30 pots per year), mushroom preserving, wood chopping, and all the tasks to get ready for the winter. I suppose that is the sort of book I thought it would be, hence my initial disappointment. But the great value of the book is the personal reflections on the nature of self. Much challenging food for thought and reflection there. A beautifully written book by a courageous and fascinating man. ( )
  ChrisSterry | May 5, 2015 |
While I'm not a social butterfly, I cannot imagine living 5 years with scarecely6 any human contact (or internet!). And yet, this is what Ansell chose, and his account of his 5 years as a hermit is enthralling.

It's not navel-gazing, either; it's mostly about the birds, though other species do get look-ins. He noted that, over time, he "disappeared from his own narrative"- I think that's fascinating.

While this is more personal than Bernrd Heinrich's books, I think it will appeal to people who like his work, especially the deeper insights into species' behavior based on long-term and curious, intelligent observation.

I found it a wonderful read, with both the observations of the lives around him, and the experience of a lifestyle I could and would never manage myself.

Recommended. ( )
  cissa | Dec 16, 2013 |
Peace and quiet. Time to hear yourself think. No need for a clock. All things that sound pretty wonderful to me, and that are found in this lovely book. Neil Ansell spent five years in PenlanCottage in Wales, an extremely isolated location where you won't hear your neighbors argue or their car alarm going off. Instead, bird song and silence....bliss.

Let me say immediately that this book is not for everyone. There's no car chases, not really any suspense (unless you count the search for where mother Mandarin duck laid her eggs), and no wild characters (except for the hares that speed through occasionally). But, for those of us who crave a little calm, this book is relaxing and appealing.

Ansell is a journalist, and he craves isolation as well. He's also precise in describing, for the most part, the types of birds that frequent the area and their breeding habits, even conducting a survey of species and totals.

A few of the birds I didn't recognize by their UK names, so I had to Google them for pictures. All of his descriptions of their stealth and means of throwing off predators is fascinating. Lots of facts are sprinkled in, such as how bats can live thirty years and return to their roosts the entire time.

Yet the book isn't just about what he sees outside the decrepit cottage, but what he sees inside himself. After a health scare, he observes:

"What remains if you peel away all those things that help you think you know who you are? If one by one you strip away your cultural choices, the validation you get from the company of your peer group, the tools you use for communication? Then what is left behind? If you had asked me that three or four years earlier, when I was just arriving at Penlan, I imagine that I would have guessed: your true self. But I soon found that in fact I rapidly became less and less self-aware; my attention was elsewhere, on the outside. And now that circumstances had forced me to look inward once again, it was to discover that there was perhaps no fixed self to find. So what was there instead? Now, more than ever, I had the sense that my life was no so very different from that of the birds fluttering on my bird-feeder, as though a boundary between us had been broken" (188).

I think this would be an amazing audiobook (Martin Shaw or Alan Rickman on the voice, please!) because the subject matter is soothing. When I went through a recent health scare, often it was suggested I use visualization to relax, especially during a few procedures that were without anesthetic. The nurses all said, "picture a long, sandy beach at sunset....". Nope, in the future I'll picture a rainy cottage with a wild-eyed rabbit perched on the back step and through the fog, a tree covered with yellow birds. ( )
1 vote BlackSheepDances | Jul 25, 2011 |
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The drivers always seem bemused when I tell them where to drop me.
I spent my final week paying an almost ritual visit to some of my favourite spots, key p-laces in the iconography of my life in the hills.
I have disappeared entirely from my own narrative;my ego has dissolved in to the mist. I came to the hills to find myself, and ended up losing myself instead. And that was immeasurably better.
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0241145007, 0141049324

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