2014 winner:

 

The Green Road Into The TreesThe Green Road Into Trees: A Walk Through England, by Hugh Thomson (Windmill/Random House)

In the past, award-winning travel writer and explorer Hugh Thomson has written books about Peru, Mexico and the Indian Himalaya. Now he returns to explore the most exotic and foreign country of them all – his own.

From the very centre of England – literally, as his village is furthest from the sea – he travels to its outermost edges. The Green Road into the Trees is a journey made rich by the characters he meets along the way. And the ways he takes are the old ways, the drover-paths and tracks, the paths and ditches half covered by bramble and tunnelled by alder, beech and oak: the trails that can still be traced by those who know where to look.

Just as in his acclaimed book about Peru, The White Rock, Hugh shows how older, half-forgotten cultures lie much closer to the surface than we may think. In recent years, archaeologists have uncovered remarkable findings about the Celts, Saxons and Vikings that have often yet to reach the wider public. Travelling along the Icknield Way, Hugh passes the great prehistoric monuments of Maiden Castle, Stonehenge and Avebury, before ending at the Wash near Seahenge.

By taking a 400 mile journey from coast to coast, through both the sacred and profane landscapes of ancient England, Hugh casts unexpected light – and humour – on the way we live now.

 

About the Author

Hugh Thomson is the author of five previous travel books, the most recent of which, Tequila Oil: Getting Lost in Mexico, was serialised by BBC Radio 4. He has led many research expeditions to Peru and is a leading explorer of Inca settlements. He has also taken filming expeditions to Mount Kilimanjaro, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Mexican Sierra Madre.

****

     

2014 shortlist:

     

Under Another Sky pbkUnder Another Sky, by Charlotte Higgins (Vintage PB / HB Jonathan Cape)

This book is about the encounter with Roman Britain. What does Roman Britain mean to us now? How were its physical remains rediscovered and made sense of? How has it been reimagined, in story and song and verse? 

Charlotte Higgins has traced these tales by setting out to discover the remains of Roman Britain for herself. Via accounts of some of Britain’s most intriguing, and often unjustly overlooked ancient monuments, Under Another Sky invites us to see the British landscape, and British history, in an entirely fresh way: as indelibly marked by how the Romans first imagined, and wrote, these strange and exotic islands into existence.

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About the Author

Charlotte Higgins was born in Stoke-on-Trent and studied Classics at Balliol College, Oxford. She is the Guardian’s chief arts writer.

****

     

Badgerlands, by Patrick Barkham ( Granta Publications)

The author of The Butterfly Isles turns his wry, affectionate attention to an even more beloved (and controversial) British animal – the badger.

Britain is the home of the badger – there are more badgers per square kilometre in this country than in any other. And yet many of us have never seen one alive and in the wild. They are nocturnal creatures that vanish into their labyrinthine underground setts at the first hint of a human. Here, Patrick Barkham follows in the footsteps of his badger-loving grandmother, to meet the feeders, farmers and scientists who know their way around Badgerlands: the mysterious world in which these distinctively striped creatures snuffle, dig and live out their complex social lives. As the debate over the badger cull continues, Barkham weighs the evidence on both sides of the argument, and delves into the rich history of the badger – from their prehistoric arrival in Britain and their savage persecution over the centuries, to Kenneth Grahame’s creation in Wind in the Willows and the badger that became a White House pet.

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About the Author

Parick Barkham was born in 1975 in Norfolk and was educated at Cambridge University. He is a features writer for the Guardian, where he has reported on everything from the Iraq War to climate change. His first book, The Butterfly Isles, received ecstatic reviews, has sold 25,000 copies, and was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and the Galaxy New Writer of the Year Award 2010. He lives in Norfolk.

****

     

Field Notes from a Hidden City, by Esther Woolfson (Granta Publications)

A beautifully written and thought-provoking record of a year spent observing the natural world in a city, which looks afresh at our relationship to the animals and plants that live in close proximity to us.

Against the background of austere and beautiful Aberdeen, Woolfson observes the seasons, the streets and the quiet places of her city over the course of a year. She considers the geographic, atmospheric and environmental elements which bring diverse life forms together in close proximity, and in absorbing prose writes of the animals among us: the birds, the rats and squirrels, the spiders and the insects. Her close examination of the natural world leads her to question our prevailing attitudes to urban and non-urban wildlife, and to look again at the values we place on the lives of individual species.

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About the Author

Esther Woolfson was brought up in Glasgow and studied Chinese at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Edinburgh University. Her acclaimed short stories have appeared in many anthologies and have been read on Radio 4. She is the author of Corvus: A Life with Birds, which is also published by Granta Books. She has won prizes for her nature writing and received a Scottish Arts Council Travel Grant and a Writer’s Bursary.

****

     

Walking Home, by Simon Armitage (Faber)

In summer 2010 Simon Armitage decided to walk the Pennine Way. The challenging 256-mile route is usually approached from south to north, from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm, the other side of the Scottish border. He resolved to tackle it the other way round: through beautiful and bleak terrain, across lonely fells and into the howling wind, he would be walking home, towards the Yorkshire village where he was born.

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About the Author

Simon Armitage was born in West Yorkshire and is Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield. A recipient of numerous prizes and awards, he has published ten collections of poetry, including Selected Poems (2001), Seeing Stars (2010) and his acclaimed translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2007). A broadcaster and presenter, he also writes extensively for television and radio, is the author of two novels, the bestselling memoir All Points North (1998) and Walking Home (2012), his poetic journey along the Pennine Way. In 2010 he received the CBE for services to poetry.

****

     

The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane (Penguin)

In The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters, and connecting them to the continents beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and ritual, and of songlines and their singers. Above all this is a book about the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move.

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About the Author

Robert Macfarlane is the author of the award-winning Mountains of the Mind and The Wild Places. He is currently working on two new books: Landmarks, about language and landscape; and Underland, an exploration of the hidden worlds beneath our feet. He is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.