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Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  211 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
Neil Ansell spent five years living between the back of beyond and the middle of nowhere, on his own, with no electricity, gas or water and effectively only the wildlife around him for company. His dilapidated cottage, rented for £100 per year, is so exposed to the elements that it appears to rain uphill, and so remote that you can walk for twenty miles west without seeing ...more
Hardcover, 206 pages
Published 2011 by Hamish Hamilton
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David Edmonds
Aug 13, 2011 David Edmonds rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2011
I heard Neil Ansell discuss his book at Dartington's Ways with Words. What struck me about him was his absolute genuineness. This was not an experience undertaken to write a book, marred by forced comedy or earnestness or excessive enthusiasm. Nor is it a project as such. I liked his observations on birds and animals, compressed from five years experience. It is reminiscent of J A Baker's The Peregrine.
Jul 25, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing
Peace and quiet. Time to hear yourself think. No need for a clock. All things that sound pretty wonderful to me, and that are found in this lovely book. Neil Ansell spent five years in PenlanCottage in Wales, an extremely isolated location where you won't hear your neighbors argue or their car alarm going off. Instead, bird song and silence....bliss.

Let me say immediately that this book is not for everyone. There's no car chases, not really any suspense (unless you count the search for where mot
Aug 19, 2015 Jeroen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books, and the medium of writing that they reach us through, are by their very definition products of culture. In the beginning, there was not the word, no matter how much we writers would like to believe that. Furthermore, writing is almost invariably the result of thought. Even the stream-of-consciousness techniques of the dadaists and surrealists reach us through the authors' minds, the only difference being that they don't give themselves time to examine the thoughts. We could say then that ...more
Feb 04, 2013 Marri rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: united-kingdom, rural
I took the baggage of expectations into this book, which is why I didn't rate it higher; it was a fine book, and I suspect others could enjoy it more than me. I have no criticism of it save for disappointment that my expectations weren't met, and that's all.

I had hoped that this would give me insight into the nuts and bolts of homesteading, but aside from some tantalizing brushes with daily life and practical knowledge (cutting wood, making mushroom ketchup), this is more of a bird diary than an
Richard Fieldhouse
Jul 05, 2011 Richard Fieldhouse rated it really liked it
It's got birds in it. 5 years without East Enders. Brilliant.
Huw Rhys
Dec 18, 2012 Huw Rhys rated it did not like it
This book had been recommended to me by someone who knows that I enjoy disappearing into remote parts of the countryside to contemplate life from time to time. I'd bought the book a while back, and saved it up to read at the right time...

How disappointing can a book be?

Other than a few pages in the Epilogue, we get very little reflection from the author on how his retreat from the world changed or even affected him in any way.

We are told very little about the world outside the few hundred yards

3 episodes

blurb - Neil Ansell is in search of solitude. He takes up home in a dilapidated cottage in a remote part of the Welsh countryside, on his own, with no electricity, gas or water. He has only wildlife around him for company as he makes the cottage habitable.

Written by Neil Ansell and abridged by Willa King, Deep Country is read by Matthew Gravelle. Reader/Matthew Gravelle, Producer/Emma Bodger for BBC Cymru

There is a whole sub-genre of books where the solitary life is sought and then w
Jan 26, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
A man seeks solitude in a remote part of Wales.

An interesting news have been recently published in Dailymail about this author, quite interesting to be read:

I thought I was going mad in the mountains... in fact it was thyroid disease
May 27, 2011 Lou rated it liked it
Rather alot about birds, and not enough about how Ansell actually survived, but was an ok read nevertheless.
Mar 20, 2017 M. rated it it was amazing
What a delightful 2 days spent wandering the Welsh hills with Neil. A leisurely stroll of a book that makes you want to slow down, stop awhile by a stream and just watch. I wouldn't consider myself a birder by any stretch of the imagination but have always delighted in their presence, this book renewed my interest in learning more about who is who in my own woods.
Jun 02, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing
Enjoyable book by Neil Ansell. In it, he narrates the story of the five years he spent living alone in a cottage in the Welsh hills; without electricity and all the trappings of urban life. Just him and the nature around him. And that is what the book is mostly about, the nature. At times it is more like a birdwatcher's journal. But it is never dull or repetitive. As he says in the book, one of the main changes he experienced living in solitude was a greater awareness and appreciation of the del ...more
Richard Sutton
Aug 31, 2013 Richard Sutton rated it it was amazing
Deep Country has doubtlessly garnered armies of fans in the UK. Neil Ansell's journal-like record of immersion into a natural setting to observe in silence and solitude as a great many threatened species rebounded into the Welsh hills, must have marked many reasons for a nation to celebrate. For me, despite the challenges of unfamiliar places, geographic terms and species, I completed this book deeply moved at the subtext transformation in the author himself. Author Ansell, in the epilogue, rema ...more
Aug 27, 2012 Sally rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
OK, full disclosure: I know the author of this book, albeit not very well, and like him. Neil used to live in a cottage along the valley and up the hill from us. It’s pretty remote: until recently it had no neighbours within a couple of miles, and has no mains water, gas, electricity or phone. This book tells about the five years he spent there, how the solitude affected him, and (mainly) about the natural world he immersed himself in and the birds and animals he saw. I’d say the book is a good ...more
Feb 08, 2014 Mile rated it it was ok
I have to say this book turned out not to be what I had expected and in a way, not what I had hoped. I had been keen to find out more about Ansell's experience of escaping from the conventional world and spending five years living alone in a isolated stone cottage miles from anywhere. I guess like many people I have sometimes wished I could get away from it all and wondered what it might be like.
What led Ansell to make this choice and what did significant people in his family think when he decid
Apr 15, 2016 Kate rated it liked it
Almost didn't make it through this one - the man loves birds and seems to remember everyone he sees.......But so glad to have pushed on through the ornithological detail. I would have liked more on what life was like in the cottage and the other people in the area - but I think that was the point, the birds and beasties were more important to Ansell than people. He has some interesting insights into the nature of 'self' drawn from his 5 years of solitude and a period of serious illness > 'we ...more
Sam Drew
May 13, 2013 Sam Drew rated it really liked it
Neil Ansell spent five years living alone in a small cottage in the Welsh hills: I was expecting a book about why somebody would choose to do such a thing, an analysis of society and its ills, and a description of solitude and what it can do for a person. Deep Country spoiled my expectations for the better: the narrator is transparent, and through him we see the wild in its beauty, matter-of-fact brutality, its permanence. Ansell's prose expels the narrator, and as a result manages to include th ...more
Not quite what I was expecting but enjoyable nonetheless. I suppose I was expecting more of the sort of book which describes in minute detail someone setting out to live in a different place, or choosing a different way of life, but while that is what the author did the book is not quite like those books which recount such ventures (of which there are a fair number). He lived in a remote and delapidated cottage in a wood in Wales for five years (five years being much longer than most authors of ...more
Alan Dean
Jul 22, 2013 Alan Dean rated it it was amazing
The best description is that it's a bit like going for a long walk, or series of walks, with an easy going expert with the ability to pull you gently into a world that might otherwise have passed by with only a brief glance. The author lived alone, with the exception of occasional visitors, for five years without electricity or running water in a semi-derelict house in the Welsh hills. Many might do this to "find themselves", but what he found was that instead of turning inwards on a journey of ...more
Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath
Ahead of our event with Neil on 29th July, I just had to reread the fantastic Deep Country! Neil Ansell spent five years living alone in a small cottage in the Welsh hills: I was expecting a book about why somebody would choose to do such a thing, an analysis of society and its ills. Deep Country spoiled my expectations for the better: the narrator is transparent, and through him we see the wild in its beauty, matter-of-fact brutality, its elegant permanence. Ansell's prose expels the narrator, ...more
Dec 01, 2013 Wendy rated it it was amazing
Amazingly, he manages to make solitude in the Welsch hills plotworthy. Now, I am interested in wildlife and birds and nature, so it wasn't difficult for me to get through many descriptions of various interactions between birds and whatnot. I found his descriptions of day-to-day chores and routines the most interesting out of all these little quirky mundanities.

Most fascinating to me was that, as he deepens his solitude, rather than delve into personal introspection, he becomes a watcher of wildl
Dec 15, 2013 Cissa rated it it was amazing
While I'm not a social butterfly, I cannot imagine living 5 years with scarecely6 any human contact (or internet!). And yet, this is what Ansell chose, and his account of his 5 years as a hermit is enthralling.

It's not navel-gazing, either; it's mostly about the birds, though other species do get look-ins. He noted that, over time, he "disappeared from his own narrative"- I think that's fascinating.

While this is more personal than Bernrd Heinrich's books, I think it will appeal to people who lik
Nov 26, 2015 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
I am sorry I've finished reading it, as it was so relaxing and informative. It did take some few pages to get used to Neil Ansell's writing voice. His is not emotional, decorative, introspective nor sentimental, but, actually like a journalist's. Obviously he knows a great deal about birds, and his knowledge and enthusiasm are instructive to someone, like me, whoknowsrelatively little about birds. That's a whole new world to conquer! I could relate to this book very well, having lived in a forme ...more
Jul 19, 2015 Claire rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As someone who loves setting off into the remote wilderness of the UK, I was excited about this book, a gift from my partner. Whilst certain passages and sections were enthralling and interesting, the writing in places beautifully slow-paced and poetic - it revolved almost entirely around birds. I am sure an ornithologist would appreciate this but I simply had to grit my teeth and skim through page after page, looking for the odd tangent in which the author would move onto badgers, bats, hares o ...more
Bob Tyrrell
Jan 13, 2015 Bob Tyrrell rated it it was amazing
The story itself is extraordinary but the descriptions of the nature by which he was surrounded and the empathy he achieves with the local (avian) residents are very powerful. Although the book hasn't got a strong narrative beyond his day to day experiences there is a surprising thread which is how the isolation from civilised life, far from making him more introspective made it more and more difficult for him to distinguish the life going on around him and the life of the mind. The boundaries b ...more
Very, very good from start to finish. Neil recounts with great passion his experiences of living a mostly solitary existence in an isolated cottage in the Welsh hills - no electricity, no running water, a steep, winding, rough track and a long hike to the nearest village - and as a naturalist he writes here a great deal about his wildlife encounters. His descriptions of Goshawks, Sparrowhawks, Ravens and other wildlife are terribly enticing, really making me wish I could spend time in the hills ...more
Sep 15, 2013 Ade rated it liked it
Nothing earth-shattering but a very pleasant bedtime read (and if by that I'm implying that it sends you to sleep, I mean it kindly). This is perhaps more of a birdspotter's or naturist's book than an introspective tale of backwoods living; indeed, Ansell's ultimate point is that he eventually 'disappeared' from his own narrative as all his attention became focused on the world around him. Hence you won't find any deep truths or ponderings about the nature of man, only a gentle, engaged story of ...more
Apr 03, 2013 Fiona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is primarily about nature, birds in particular, rather than a story about a chap who lives a solitary life in the welsh hills. It's really about the birds he observed while living a solitary life in the welsh hills. It was not what I was expecting but still enjoyable if you are into birds and although I am not, it has piqued my interest enough that I have noticed an almost heron like bird at the top of a tree nowhere near water and I plan in purchasing a book on British birds so I can ...more
John Rostron
Aug 31, 2015 John Rostron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Given to me as a gift as we have recently left the city for the North Wales countryside, it did, of course, resonate deeply. All that I have found myself, unexpectedly, discovering and savouring was echoed here. Though Neil's life was far more remote and isolated, the themes of solitude and reflection, of simplicity and need, and the connection that's created with nature, are effortlessly told. A joy.
Mar 26, 2014 sisterimapoet rated it really liked it
Recommended to sisterimapoet by: Mew
Shelves: nonfiction14
A beautiful book - I'd have been happy for it to never end. I loved the way Ansell went to his cottage with no great agenda - with nothing to prove or aim for, other than mere existence. And I love how little and how much he had to show for the experience. And how eloquently he shared it with us. Comforting and inspiring in equal measure.
Jun 23, 2013 Rich rated it liked it
I can't do "half marks" on the scale, apparently, but 3.5 would be a fair reflection. Tended to be a bit dry in places, and his descriptions overly repetitive. However, some of them on the landscape and the remoteness are worth the price of entry. Oddly, I found the last two chapters the most moving - his more studied approach to the human aspect, rather than the "nature" affect.
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Neil Ansell is an award-winning freelance journalist and writer. He spent seven years with the BBC as a community affairs specialist, working predominantly in television but also in radio, and working in both news and current affairs as researcher, assistant producer and producer.
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“One late-autumn day I opened the back door to fetch some water, and there was a young hare sat on my back step. Save for the twitching of its nose, it froze in position as if I had surprised it as it was about to knock. It was already the size of a full-grown rabbit, and its black-tipped ears were longer than any rabbit’s would ever be. I stood there and waited for it to flush. After a while I began to doubt that it would, and squatted down to its level for a closer look, eye to eye. It stared at me apparently unconcerned, chewing silently, with bulging eyes that were such a rich golden colour they were almost orange, with black depths like the keyhole of a door to another world.” 0 likes
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