240 pages, b/w illustrations
We've all got one. A secret, special place. Hidden. Enclosed. A little greener and more fertile than the world outside. Here the birds are slightly more exotic, slightly more confiding, the grass greener and the fruit sweeter. To know such a place, to love such a place, is part of being human.
Sometimes it's a place of myth, like the Garden of Eden. Sometimes it exists in fictional form, like Narnia or Shangri-La. Sometimes it comes in memories of a golden day in childhood, or in a glorious, doomed love affair. Sometimes it's a real place that we daren't go back to, for fear that it – or we – had changed.
And just occasionally it's a real place. A place where you leave a small piece of your heart and return as often as you can so as not to lose it. It's a place of privilege.
Simon Barnes found such a place when he woke in his first morning in the Luangwa Valley in Zambia to find elephants eating the roof of his hut. It was a homecoming, and he has been faithful to that passion ever since. Here he has known peace, danger, discomfort, fear and a profound sense of oneness with the Valley, with all nature and with the world. With the Valley he found completion.
The Sacred Combe explores the special places of the mind and the world, with special reference to the Luangwa Valley and the glorious support of the Valley's great artist, Pam Carr. It's a book about the quest for paradise, and the eternal human search to find such a paradise everywhere.
"This episodic journey into the wilds of Devonshire, Africa and memory – the edenic spaces where species fleetingly coexist – is studded with descriptive jewels."
"Few articulate the joy of watching – no, the joy of simply being with – wildlife like Simon Barnes, lyrical and prosaic in the same breath [...] A delightful curiosity."
– Paul Bloomfield, BBC Wildlife
"Full of brief, digestible and often-personal nuggets – centred on the Luangwa Valley in Zambia – and makes for breezy, bright-eyed reading."
"These chapters are littered and bejewelled with eco-factoids, fascinating and irreverent."
– The Times Saturday Review
"This episodic journey into the wilds of Devonshire, Africa and memory – the endemic spaces where species fleetingly coexist – is studded with descriptive jewels."
"His attitude to the great outdoors is similarly eclectic, combining the impish humour of an enlightened Buddhist with a fierce intelligence and superb observational skills."
– Mail on Sunday
"The Sacred Combe is partly a hymn to his own spiritual home, partly a meditation on the qualities that go to make such places."
– Daily Telegraph
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Simon Barnes is a multi-award-winning journalist, and was chief sportswriter for The Times from 2002 to 2014. Current channels for his work include The Spectator and the RSPB's Nature's Home magazine His 20-odd books include three novels, the best-selling How To Be A Bad Birdwatcher, and Birdwatching With Your Eyes Closed. He lives in Norfolk with his family and four horses, beside a marsh.