Monday, 13 May 2019

Where The Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt

Where The Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt
Published in the UK by Nicholas Brealey in 2017.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nick Hunt sets off on an unlikely quest: to follow four of Europe's winds across the continent...

His wind-walks begin on Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, as he chases the roaring Helm - the only named wind in Britain. In southern Europe he follows the Bora - a bitter northerly that blows from Trieste through Slovenia and down the Croatian coast. His hunt for the 'snow-eating' Foehn becomes a meandering journey of exhilaration and despair through the Alpine valleys of Switzerland, and his final walk traces an ancient pilgrims' path in the south of France on the trail of the Mistral - the 'wind of madness' which animated and tormented Vincent Van Gogh.

These are journeys into wild wind, but also into wild landscapes and the people who inhabit them - a cast of meteorologists, storm chasers, mountain men, eccentric wind enthusiasts, sailors and shepherds. Soon Nick finds himself borne along by the very forces he is pursuing, through rain, blizzards, howling gales, and back through time itself. For, where the wild winds are, there are also myths and legends, history and hearsay, science and superstition - and occasionally remote mountain cabins packed with pickles, cured meats and homemade alcohol.

Where the Wild Winds Are is a beautiful, unconventional travelogue that makes the invisible visible.

As a keen walker, I always enjoy a good walking memoir, especially one with an unusual hook, so when I saw a copy of Where The Wild Winds Are on a friend's bookshelf I had it borrowed faster than he could say, 'I haven't actually read that myself yet'! I'm more of a fair weather walker so the idea of deliberately searching out walks to undertake them when strong winds were blowing struck me as odd to say the least. I thought Nick Hunt might be made from the Robert MacFarlane mould, but it turns out he's not quite that extreme.

The first of Nick Hunt's wind walks was across the Pennines in search of The Helm wind. His nods to Simon Armitage's Walking Home memoir of the same area, and to James Turrell's Skyscape sculptures (one of which I experienced in Norfolk) gave his writing a sense of familiarity. I loved that, throughout this book, Hunt not only talks about his immediate experiences and the walks themselves, but also gives readers lots of varied information about the history of the places he visits, art, philosophy and, of course, meteorology. The people he encounters also seem to be genuinely just-met rather than all chosen ahead of time for their 'jolly anecdote' potential! I just wish I could remember half the details of what I read for more than the duration of a chapter. There is so much to learn that I feel I need to make a serious study of Where The Wild Winds Are in order to truly do Hunt's research justice.

This memoir is certainly inspirational for anyone who walks, travels or cloud watches. Each of Hunt's four walks is accompanied by an outline map of his route and I am now tempted to follow in his footsteps along parts of the Slovenia-Croatia walk and along the French one. Contrary to his intent though, I would much rather walk on a non-windy day!

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  1. Interesting! Especialy the cover.

    1. The beautiful artwork is what first appealed to me about Wild Winds

  2. I used to read a ton of mountain climbing books but never really about the hill walking side of things. Most of my books tend to be about mountain disasters and dangerous expeditions!

    1. Nick Hunt's escapades would look pretty tame by comparison!

  3. I don't think I would be able to enjoy this one as it doesn't seem like something for me. I do like walking and traveling but I think I would feel impatient with it in a lot of places? But it sounds like one right up your street, so I am glad you could appreciate it :D

    1. There is a lot of information that's not about walking so I could understand your possibly losing patience with Hunt's meanderings


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