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Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  447 ratings  ·  59 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 l
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 14th 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  447 ratings  ·  59 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 husband H. – ...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
Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)
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
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"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 ca
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 ...more
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
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
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
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.
Natalie (CuriousReader)
Shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize 2018.
My Video Review:
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.
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
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 discov
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.
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.
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
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,
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hidden Nature A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler Book 94 of 2018
Alys buys an inflatable raft/canoe and explores the canals of Birmingham discovering the flora and fauna and quite literally herself along the way.
She quotes Larkin on the first few pages, so I knew I was onto a good thing! She goes Mudlarking, where she collects freshwater mussel shells, these creatures can live for up to 150 years. She shares equally interesting titbits on bees, butterflies, eels and fungi, I learnt a
Mousy Brown
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Hidden Nature, not in the passionate "must finish immediately" kind of way that a book can sometimes get to me, but still it has got to me and made me think...It has reminded me how much I love canals and how much I enjoy paddling on the water. It has also reminded me of the importance of spotting beauty in the most unlikely of places, something I am good at doing with plants and animals but perhaps struggle a little more with when it come to people...and finally, the authors honest ac ...more
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
A pedestrian, rather splinter of ice in heart coldness characterises this "nature" writing. Her lack of empathy for animals was probably part of that coldness. Her account felt self-absorbed to the point I felt bored by her coming out story, which I was not expecting to, but did. It also felt that she was "othering" her husband as a disabled man. She did not even include him in her acknowledgements, and the marriage ended purely because of her change in sexuality, or so she constructs the story. ...more
Georgina Bawden
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
This was meh. The author doesn't write much of substance about either her discovery she is a lesbian or the natural world. The former goes uninterrogated, focusing rather on her experience of the emotional fallout of her divorce. The latter serves only to act as metaphor for the former. It's underwhelming. She also seems like an exhausting person - I imagine going through this kind of life event would make you kind of insufferable for a while and your friends and family would just put up with it ...more
Liz Pardey
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found this book fascinating on many levels. Navigating the canal network of Birmingham -- in my part of Canada we don't have canals, and you wouldn't get me in an inflatable kayak for a million bucks! She is in the process of leaving her ill husband for a woman. I would have a very hard time rationalizing that. She is an avid gardener; I live in a mass of bindweed.
Ms Fowler is a garden writer, an authority on British flora and during the course of her travels she shares her extensive kno
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
what i liked about this book:
- evocative descriptions of nature
- fun facts about Birmingham and its canal system (particularly interesting for me, as i have just spent 10 months studying abroad in birmingham; however i can imagine it would be quite boring for someone who has no connection to the place)
- fun facts about plants
-some good paragraphs about her outlook on life, coming out etc.

what i didnt like about this book:
-too much talk about nature, it got ve
Christine Dolan
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I thought that this book sounded really promising, with the blurb and publicity describing it as an adventure in the natural world of urban canals. I found it very disappointing though, and also rather odd. Fowler is restless and seemingly unhappy and so takes the unusual decision to explore Birmingham's canals in an inflatable kayak. She says that her natural discoveries helped her to find herself. Some of the descriptions of wild places and abandoned factories were beguiling. However, it was o ...more
Rachel Stirrup
Nov 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Decided after a long time that I was never going to finish this book. It started off well, but my God is this book self-indulgent. There are only so many times I can read about somebody crying in the middle of a canal before I lose interest.
I've met Alys and she is really reserved and quiet in person, but comes alive when she talks about plants. I think this book is trying to be too much. As a stand alone book about nature and Birmingham's canals, it would be excellent, like a lot of Alys's oth
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an intriguing hybrid of a book: part coming out memoir, part nature essay, and with a generous dollop of Birmingham’s history thrown in. It is at times gorgeously written, and if you like learning random facts about Birmingham’s canal network, eels, kayaking, and various other flora and fauna, then you should enjoy. I think that a map of the canals that the author traverses would have been nice, or perhaps some photos of the landscape.

The greatest flaw of the book is the emot
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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.