The Sacred Combe: A Search for Humanity's Heartland

by Simon Barnes

The Sacred Combe: A Search for Humanity's Heartland


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A special place, a place of your own, a secret garden where life is somehow more alive than it is outside. The place is wilder and yet kinder, the creatures that live here are less tame but somehow more confiding. It's both magical and holy. Call it Eden, Narnia, the secret garden: the need for such a place is part of the human condition. I've sought it all my life, as Alice sought the locked-up garden after she had fallen down the rabbit-hole. But I did better than she: I found the key, I opened the door and walked through it. I entered the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, and nothing was ever the same again.

Simon Barnes is, without question, one of our finest natural history writers. The Sacred Combe is the story of his relationship with the great imagined special place, and with the real Valley, where he awoke on his first night in camp to find elephants consuming the roof of his hut as a light snack. It is about our abiding longing for a wilder, less civilised life, and about finding it, and living it. It is about every person's relationship with the wild world, with all non-human life. Intensely personal in places, there are flashbacks to childhood, a few reflections on a book or a painting, some meetings with exceptional people – and above all the sense of being in the bush, being at peace and being prey, both at the same time.

The Sacred Combe is where we understand the species we share the planet with, and where we also begin to understand the species we happen to be. The Sacred Combe represents natural history writing at its very best.

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