From a 2018 Wainwright Prize-shortlisted author, The Circling Sky is part childhood memoir, blended with exquisite nature observation, and the story of one man's journey over a year to one of the UK's key natural habitats, the New Forest of Hampshire.
In the form of several journeys, beginning in January 2019, Neil Ansell returns for solitary walks to the New Forest in Hampshire, close to where he was born. With beautiful sightings and observations of birds, trees, butterflies, insects and landscape, this is also a reflective memoir on childhood, on the history of one of the most ancient and important natural habitats in the United Kingdom, and on the Gypsies who lived there for centuries – and were subsequently expelled to neighbouring cities. It is also part polemic on our collective and individual responsibility for the land and world in which we live, and how we care for it.
As Neil Ansell concludes so eloquently, 'Evolution has no choice in what it does, but we do, as a species, if not always as individuals'.
Neil Ansell was an award-winning television journalist with the BBC and a long-standing writer for the broadsheets. He is the author of two previous books, Deep Country and Deer Island, and has contributed to nature programs and wildlife documentaries though his main focus was news and current affairs. He has two daughters and lives in Brighton.
"A beautiful evocation of life in a forest and a powerful reminder of the interconnected fate of all wild things, including ourselves"
– Raynor Winn
"Like taking a refreshing and eye-opening walk in the open air with the most interesting, observant and companionable of guides. In The Circling Sky Neil Ansell reveals the remarkableness of the relatively unexotic New Forest, moving deftly from personal reflection to beautiful nature writing, to a crucial, timely argument about the history and importance of common land."
– Naomi Ishiguro
"Neil Ansell's series of walks in the New Forest through the course of a year coalesce into a skilful exploration of memory, childhood, and how certain landscapes can become an integral part of your life. Ansell is a gifted naturalist, sensitive, inquisitive, at times justly enraged, invariably joyful. The Circling Sky is a wonderful tribute to a unique and precious place"
– James Macdonald Lockhart
"The Circling Sky reads like a vivid and subtle nature programme for your mind's eye. Its New Forest setting is a world within a world; a fragile Eden with an utterly astonishing cast of birds; a unique harbour to an array of species both familiar and unexpected, and a complex, sometimes dark human history. At times it felt like Danny the Champion of the World had grown up, lived an intriguing life, and was now communicating his subtle life philosophy as he walked among the trees. I finished this book sharing its author's desire to look closer, to "walk in peace", and – as he puts it – to "camp without camping", and simply fall asleep beneath a tree."
– Damian Le Bas
"Neil Ansell takes us on a thoughtful journey through the fabulous New Forest. He combines evocative description with an accurate naturalist's eye, in the best tradition of modern British nature writing."
– Jeremy Purseglove
"Neil Ansell is a wonderful guide [...] this is a delight of nature writing"
– Choice magazine
"His articulate reminiscences and observations on history, wildlife and the changing landscape will make readers reflect on the world around us and our part – individually and collectively – in looking after it"
"Neil Ansell is a writer of extraordinary sensitivity and insight"
"An immersive delving into the delights of the New Forest. Neil Ansell writes with such warmth and such wonder on the wild – with vital eyes and mind he senses the essence of the world around him, tucked down in the landscape to observe better the life of the natural world"
– Dr James Canton
"His anecdotes gleam"
"Beautifully charts the challenges and solaces of being alone and part of nature"
"[A] captivating memoir [...] vivid as photographs, yet sketched with something more profound than simple reportage. Beneath the measured, knowledgeable, unfussy voice is a meaningful, and even important record: not just of a changing landscape, but of a man such places have shaped."
– The Herald
"Ansell's beautiful memoir of his walks through the Scottish wilderness makes the case for being truly a part of nature rather than outside of it"
"Neil Ansell is a genuine creature of the wild. His knowledge of remote places, and his love for them, come from deep and sustained immersion. He writes in prose which is entirely right for its subject – unshowy, level-headed, quietly surprising. The Last Wilderness is a wonderful experience which tingles with all the sensations of being out on the hill, in all weathers, alone"
– Philip Marsden
"Ansell has the rare skill of combining vividly the intimacy of detail and the astonishing grandeur of this North West coastline of Scotland. Through his keen eyes we look again at the familiar with a sense of wondrous revelation"
– Madeleine Bunting
"An easy storyteller, with a companionable style. His year in the forest is painterly in its attention to colours [...] his knowledge of birds is formidable"
– Herald Magazine
"Every foray Ansell makes into the New Forest yields captivating insights"
– Saga Magazine