The Search For Magic: This Book Looks At British Landscape In A Whole New Way
Be inspired to rediscover Britain's landscapes, with award-winning travel writer, Jini Reddy, as your guide into the spiritual, the magical and the other. No spells needed.
Mon 18 May 2020
When was the last time you went into the countryside looking for magic?
I don’t mean the rabbit out of a hat or sleight of hand trickery, but ancient feeling, natural connection and a sense that somewhere along the line everything is connected, past and future, now and then, here and there.
In our fast paced, hyper rational world, there’s not much space for a sense of wonder, let alone room for the idea that there might be something deeper than the pretty hills, imposing mountains or thick green forest we see when we’re looking for a dose of the green stuff.
Travel writer, Jini Reddy, spent years feeling as though she was searching for something, but something she couldn’t really even shape, for fear of being laughed at.
A lifelong longing for the magical in nature, and a popular first book about wild British adventures, collided to give her the opportunity to delve into the British landscape last year to write a new book, Wanderland, about a sort of spirituality - the kind where when the going gets tough, the tough turn to the trees for an answer.
From wild and ancient but relatively well known destinations like Lindisfarne and Iona to walking a Cornish labyrinth and searching for hidden springs in a forest in Hastings via a passed down map, Jini’s adventures into various British scenes will inspire anyone to search for something deeper.
She is a compassionate and relatable guide and the book deals with our preconception of the kind of person who enjoys the countryside, finding your place in the other, what it means to be British and those who want to dive deeper into subjects that were once the territory of the patchouli wafting, rainbow trouser wearing.
It’s cathartic, invigorating and reassuring - this isn’t a book for botanists or academics, but for people like you and me, who want to connect with the ancient landscapes, and use more senses than just your eyes.
To find out more about her journey into the wanderland, I gave Jini a ring last month.
How did you decide where to go in the book?
This book is about a search for magic in the landscape, so I wanted to embody that in my approach.
I literally asked the spirit of the land – even if I didn’t entirely know what I meant by that – to show me what I need to know. And things did begin to happen! That was my biggest takeaway. You can invite magic into your life. (Yes, sceptics look away now.)
By expanding your field of perception, you can get onto what I call ‘radio magic’. But expectation doesn’t always meet reality. Things don’t always go to plan…
For instance, when I visited Iona, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. I set off with no plan, but an intention to ask the forces of nature to guide me. It wasn’t about being spontaneous and just rocking up, but about deep listening and following signs one might normally overlook.
On my way up on the train, I had a cryptic email from an acquaintance, encouraging me to look for a ‘temple in the land’ and to consider ‘in what dimension’ this temple might exist. It was all quite mysterious. But I took it as a sign, and decided to make this my mission. I spent four days trying to find this temple in the land. Initially the locals said they’d never heard of it or that it was hard to get to. I was met with a lot of resistance and by the fourth day I had had enough. So I went to cafe and saw a woman I recognised. I had met her once, briefly four years previously, and told her what I was doing on Iona. She suggested we find the temple together. We left the cafe, and bumped into someone she hadn’t seen for ages, who was going for a hike. To the very temple, itself, as it turned out…
"I don’t know who I am asking but I’m trusting that some kind of sentient force in nature is listening"
Why did you choose to focus on the British landscape?
I grew up abroad which felt more familiar. I put off going to rural Britain because I didn’t know anyone there, and my focus was more far-flung travel, as a travel writer. But eventually I tired of long-haul travel and started taking an interest in the British countryside.
I wasn’t so intrigued by the British myths but I’m intrigued by the magical side, because magic is universal. I’ve always believed there is more than meets the eye to the landscape. I’d say is Nature is my God – the intelligent, animate, sentient, mysterious force that lies behind what Thomas Berry describes as a ‘symphony of species’ – If I want answers to questions that’s where I’ll go.
Many people can feel like the countryside isn’t for them, or their interest isn’t valid unless they’re a bird watcher, conservationist or hard core hiker. You talk a lot about this - and about what ‘nature’ actually is, in the book.
Sometimes it feels as though if you’re not a naturalist or a birder or conservationist, or wildlife expert, you have no right for express a longing for nature. Sometimes I struggle with the word 'nature'. I think people think birds, trees, plants, but I don’t mean this leaf or that leaf! I mean the wider ecosystem and Gaia.
The whole time I was writing the book I feared being judged. I didn’t know whether I’d be laughed at. It’s very vulnerable expressing your truest longings, but that’s a universal feeling, and actually it’s the more esoteric side of the book that a lot of people have connected to.
The book is a fantastic journey into how the magical is a valid lens through which to see landscapes we might otherwise overlook. You discuss in the book, what magic means to you and whether it can be found and felt by a normal person.
I’ve always had this interest in magic and the landscape but the journeys I took in the book felt like a kind of ‘proof’ to me that it is possible to tap into this without being a shaman or medicine woman.
I found a lot of peace in writing this book, in exploring the magical other. I’ve accepted my interest in the spiritual side of things and acknowledged that there are other parts of myself that have felt marginalised, but that it’s ok to forge your own space and your own path and be different.
How can other people access a more magical experience with nature?
You need commitment and persistence - and the key is commitment. Everyone’s journey is different and what you are pulled towards varies.
Learn and read, do a lot of research. My journey was steeped in deep longing, rather than superficial gratification. The whole book is about taking a more reverential approach to the landscape and nature and there’s real value in that, in taking the time, in stopping and not rushing.
I often get asked: ‘What do I have to do?’
But it’s for people to figure it out for themselves. You have to listen and follow your curiosity, and your intuition. Which way are you being pulled?
"Nature is my God - I don’t mean a particular species but if I want answers to questions that’s where I’ll go"
Which places that you visited left a lasting impression?
I loved Lindisfarne in Northumberland. I’ve been back three times now and I’ll go back there every year. I feel the island itself welcomes me. It’s a place of pilgrimage so it has a more liminal feel - the veil between worlds feels thinner in these places, and the nature feels freer and is it ease with itself.
One of the reasons why I so feel at ease in the countryside generally is that I don’t feel like I’m alone, I feel that the land is with me, that the spirit of the land with me – but it’s so hard to put these things into words. It sounds so hippy but to people from indigenous cultures it is perfectly natural - we’ve become divorced from that.
Jini’s book is chiming with a lot of people who are asking bigger questions about how our health and wellbeing is in step with how we treat nature. Does that sound like you?
pebble readers get a special 20% OFF Wanderland. Use the code WANDERLAND20 at www.bloomsbury.com/wanderland.