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Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  731 ratings  ·  101 reviews
Leaving her garden to the mercy of the slugs, award-winning writer Alys Fowler set out in an inflatable kayak to explore Birmingham's canal network, full of little-used waterways where huge pike skulk and kingfishers dart.

Her book is about noticing the wild everywhere and what it means to see beauty where you least expect it. What happens when someone who has learned to ob
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 14th 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton (first published 2017)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  731 ratings  ·  101 reviews

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(2.5) I knew of Alys Fowler as a gardening columnist for the Guardian, but was intrigued to read her memoir mostly because she’s part of a small but increasingly visible body of people who have changed their sexual orientation – or woken up to the truth of it for the first time – a bit later in life. (I hope Molly Wizenberg will write a memoir about her experience, for instance.) Initially content with her Birmingham life – a job, a bounteous garden and allotment, a dog, and a household with her ...more
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fowler wanted an adventure and to be alone with nature. She thought about climbing in the Andes Mountains, but then reality brought her to seek something closer to home.

Fowler bought a portable, inflatable kayak that she could put into a backpack to explore the canals of Birmingham. The author describes some of the canals that were built in the 1790s. Fowler describes the wildlife and plant life that grows along the banks and in the water. She tells of paddling through the Dudley tunnel and thr
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Alys had always wanted to be an adventurer; someone who would climb mountains and forge rivers, sail and cycle to parts of the world that she had never been before. But life got in the way, she fell in love and married a penniless artist who sought to expand her mind and gave her a different way of looking at the world. A degree in science with an environmental element offered a perspective between the wild and the controlled. As her writing career blossomed a move to Birmingham presented itself ...more
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely adored this. Not only is it lovely because as "washed in" Brummie, it's wonderful to read an ode to this place that is just perfect. BIrmingham may have many flaws but it is also really wonderful. Always imperfectly perfect, always changing and forever adapting to its changing fortunes. And what better way to explore Birmingham than on its canals in an inflatable kayak, getting into places no one can go, seeing the gongoozlers (someone who watches what's going on on the canal) on th ...more
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really don't know what to say, I knew it would hit and it did. It reads like life itself, and I'm grateful to Alys Fowler for sharing it with me. ...more
Christopher Jones
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Liquid gold ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Rush hour, tube, Alys Fowler, Hidden Nature, oasis, fed my soul beautifully X
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, lgbt
Alys Fowler writes beautifully about nature, particularly the minutiae of small plants, such as moss and lichens, and how they survive. Her writing is clear and precise as she gets across scientific concepts. This, however, is the strongest part of a book that strives to do a lot more. Fowler sets out to write about her journeys on the canals of Birmingham, and in doing so, to explore the end of her relationship with her husband following her realisation that she is a lesbian. It's hard to engag ...more
"The best maps are not published, are not accurate or even sensible, but are the maps we make ourselves about our cities, our kith and kin. These maps are made up of private details that allow us to navigate our past as much as our future terrain" - Alys Fowler

This is a book that I completely and utterly loved. On beginning it I wasn't quite sure what to expect but what I got was a book that was sumptuously lush, viscerally honest and elegantly crafted. From descriptions of minute canal side mos
Maya Panika
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I love Alys Fowler’s garden writing, its always a delight, filled with lyricism and wonder, and I’d hoped she’d bring the same sense of joy and discovery to this book, which purports to be about adventuring by kayak through the neglected canals of her hometown of Birmingham. There is some of the former, but a great deal more is her discovery of her sexuality, about leaving her - very sick - husband for another woman and coming out as gay. This story is far and away the meat and potatoes of this ...more
Sophy H
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting mix of nature journal/outdoor adventure/personal memoir.

The writing here is heartfelt and honest, with Alys's discussion of coming out and ending her marriage as raw and candid as it gets.

Alys manages to make us fall in love with the often disused waterways of modern Birmingham, and their flora and fauna that make these watery passageways their home.

Captivating, enchanting, and enthralling writing.
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: sapphic
As of yet still unsure what to make of this; some beautiful passages, but honestly this is a book of two total disjointed stories, Fowler is trying to run the two alongside each other to form one collective narrative, when really the only thing linking the nature and sexuality aspects is that she happened to have a hobby at the same time she realised she was gay. To be honest, there is little indication she realises she is gay, as she literally doesn't mention it until she says she tells her hus ...more
Sep 07, 2020 rated it liked it
I've been exploring the radial waterways of Birmingham over the last 3-4 years by foot and was quite familiar with the landscape Alys navigates. Small factual variations (deviations?) made me raise my eyebrows a little and reminded me that this is a memoir rather than waterways report, but her description of the uplifting power of the 'edge' is echoed resoundingly by my personal experience and smoothed over the wrinkles.

The only thing that moves the rating a touch lower is the breathy tone of h
Eleanor (bookishcourtier)
look, I'm DNFing this one right here. I have been reading it for so long, and nothing about it really made me care. I hate to criticise someone's memoir, but this was not great. Just, the whole travelling around canals was kind of dull. The writing wasn't beautiful, but the thing that made me really really angry was the chapter that I just read. It was very insensitive and I do not want to read on in a book that I wasn't interested in anyway and that I now have no desire to pick up again. ...more
Allison Clough
Mar 01, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook, memoir, nature
The nature writing was lovely at times, interesting information about canals, but I think I had hoped for a bit more about the internal struggle and detail about the realisation of true sexuality. This was all very brief and very surface level. Whilst I can appreciate the desire to keep things private, a book about coming out could have been more useful to other questioning people if it was a bit more open.
Dec 22, 2021 rated it liked it
An autobiography of Alys exploring the canals of Birmingham in a canoe and a series of life changing events.
I did enjoy some aspects, the cover was nice, the descriptions of certain flora/fauna and initial rides in the canoe was nice. But sadly it became a bit repetitive and language used at time felt a wee bit basic, resulting in a lack of investment.
Rosie Evans
Apr 25, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting mix of memoir, travel and nature writing which gently carries the reader along not just Birmingham's canals but the authors' mind on her journey of self discovery and change. ...more
Natalie (CuriousReader)
Shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize 2018.
My Video Review:
Mia-rosa Green
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is quite possibly my favourite non-fiction book that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Alys Fowler is a wonderful woman and I felt as if I resided inside the tangle of her ginger hair, peering into her thoughts all the way through this book.
I am a nature lover and a gardener and have read her newspaper columns for years and class her 'Thrifty Forager/Gardener' books as gardening bibles. However, in this auto-biographical text it was her self reflective paragraphs that I held onto mo
Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written piece of creative non-fiction. It's important to take into consideration when approaching this book for the first time that it is not LGBT or non-fiction, Alys Fowler did not intend to write an autobiographical book or to focus the book on her coming out story. Fowler has done what she does best, she has written about nature and has used the natural world to represent her feelings about coming out at 37 years of age. Like any other freelance writer, she wanted to get publis ...more
Andrew Cox
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found this book an absolute delight. 2 memoirs in a row but so different. This is a voyage of discovery, possibly more of a personal nature than of nature.
The writing is poetic, her thoughts intriguing as she looks at herself in both a detached & intimate way.
I sometimes get extremely frustrated with myself for not being more adventurous in my exploration of the world & clearly Fowler (like O'Farrell in the previous memoir I read) has travelled widely. However the idea of discovering beauty i
Julian Walker
A real journey of discovery on multiple fronts, filled with great descriptions and evocative imagery.

The author cleverly intertwines her own personal discovery, with historical perspectives, the pace of change and observations on flora and fauna - making this a delight to delve into on many fronts.

I am inspired to get a pack raft and head out onto the canals near me.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Kate F
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Alys Fowler writes beautifully; about nature, about adventure, and about the life-changing events of her own personal journey. 'Hidden Nature' is part nature journal, part autobiography, in which she combines ecology, philosophy, poetry and self-reflection into a unique, emotive and mesmerising work. ...more
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed reading this!
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Just not enough nature in it for me. More like a journal of self discovery I thought. Beautiful cover.
Gary Chadbourne
Oct 23, 2019 rated it did not like it
I am a selfish rich kid who has dumped my chronically ill husband because I can’t be arsed.
That covers it.
Kim Hall
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was ok
Firstly, I feel like I only write reviews when a book has disappointed me a little, something I should probably remedy. In my defence, I don't usually review DNFs or books I really hated, just those which I think were a missed opportunity. Secondly, I came to this with an awareness of Alys Fowler and as someone who really enjoyed her TV show and who owns and likes her gardening books. I was also really interested in the idea of exploring a city from its waterways as well as Alys' experience of r ...more
Chantal Lyons
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am a glutton for nature writing, so I happily snapped this one up. While it never soared, except for one moment, it was an enjoyable, satisfying read.

Fans of Rob Cowen's "Common Ground", one of those shortlisted for last year's Wainwright Prize (and the book that should have won) will sense a kinship in "Hidden Nature". The canals are edges, literally, metaphorically and biologically. And emotionally, as it turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly - I can very happily read a book that is totally abou
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved so many aspects of this book. It is a homage to small adventures, to discovering your local area, to the fact that you don't need to go to the other side of the world to discover something wonderful, to see how nature can thrive in all kinds of environments. And to quirky little projects.

This is about Alys Fowler, who lives in Birmingham, and decides to buy herself a little canoe/kayak boat and explore all the canalways of Birmingham. Yeah. I don't know Birmingham that well, but the litt
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, women, nature
I enjoyed reading 'H is for Hawk' and also 'The January Man', so no surprise that I enjoyed this - with its mixture of the natural world and the personal world, grieving and exploring both internally and externally. Fowler's and her friends' knowledge of plant and animal life is deep - and her love of nature in the city deep too, so there are shades of Richard Mabey here as she fights against breakdown.

This story of grief and renewal comes with a twist - it is about the break up of Alys's marria
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Alys Fowler is a gardener who loves food. She has an allotment and an urban back garden with two chickens, lots of flowers and plenty of vegetables. She is author of several books and writes a weekly column on gardening for the Guardian.

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