1970s Memoirs

The Shining Levels by John Wyatt

The Shining Levels

Five words from the blurb: Lake District, forest, joys, deer, friendship

The Shining Levels is a beautiful book about the joys of the English countryside. It is an autobiographical account of John Wyatt’s move to a small stone hut in the Lake District, where he lives without many home comforts. He often takes things further by staying in a basic shelter in the woods; eating what he can find around him. His enthusiasm for the flora and fauna is infectious and it makes me want to walk through a wood looking for the wildlife he mentions. Well you can find best quality, economical, long lasting wood briquettes at

Wyatt has a particular passion for trees and he explains everything from what each species tastes like, to the recipe for the perfect fire:

Once one gets the taste for smoking wood it is possible to mix and obtain subtle flavours; and invent recipes. Prepare a fire base of larch kindling, add well-seasoned oak until the logs redden deeply; place one large back-log of holly, and add, from the fire back to the front, one crab-apple log, one well-dried cherry and one of birch. An ideal after-dinner mixture.

There is also a fascinating account of what happens when he agrees to look after a baby roe deer. The relationship that builds between the two is wonderful and I highly recommend this book for that aspect alone.

On top of the detailed, vivid descriptions of wildlife we also glimpse what life was like in 1970s Cumbria. There is a wonderful range of local characters and many amusing anecdotes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about nature, especially those with a connection to the Lake District.


Many thanks to David, a regular commenter, for recommending this book to me.

12 replies on “The Shining Levels by John Wyatt”

A magical book, one I used to collect 2nd hand copies of to give away (before the internet arrived, for me, that is), and Toller Books reprinted it so beautifully.
He became Warden of the Lake District National Park eventually.

Carol, Yes, I can see myself distributing copies of this one too! It’s the kind of book that makes the perfect gift for nature lovers. I’m pleased you’ve discovered its magic 🙂

From the nature classics series, I would hugely recommend Island Years by Frank Fraser Darling. I still have my childhood copy, and still reread it. It was out of print for over thirty years before Little Toller picked it up.

It sounds like a lovely book. I have a bit of a thing about the English countryside, seeing as how it’s the exact opposite to where I live. 🙂 I’m glad you’re feeling able to read again, Jackie.

Violet, It would be really interesting to hear the thoughts of someone who isn’t familiar with the area. I’m sure the descriptions are vivid enough to give you a good idea of what the area is like – an excellent way to travel without leaving home 🙂

The minimalistic cover and your review both say to me that this is a really beautiful read! It’s also very interesting how I find such special books: For example I discovered Milan Kundera’s novel The Farewell Party in a Little free library we have nearby which works on a take a book, return a book principle. I also didn’t know anything about it, it just caught my attention but I must say it’s a brilliantly written ambiguous comedy I really enjoy to read. There is a historical background which is not so easy to understand for someone who didn’t live in those times, but maybe this time I can recommend something to you 🙂

I appreciate a nice, simple cover too! I’ve enjoyed some of Kundera’s work, but not tried The Farewell Party – I’ll try to get hold of a copy one day 🙂

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