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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 14-Jan-16 17:15:33

Where's your natural haven?

Do you have a special place? A natural wonder? One where a meaningful event took place? Simon Barnes, one of Britain's best nature writers, shares his 'Sacred Combe' - his most special place - and what it means to him.

We also have five copies of his new book The Sacred Combe to give away to those who post on the thread.

Simon Barnes

Where's your natural haven?

Posted on: Thu 14-Jan-16 17:15:33


Lead photo

What's your Sacred Combe?

What's yours? Because we've all got one. A secret, special place, one packed with meaning, easy to love but hard to share, except perhaps with our nearest.

It's wild, enclosed and full of life. The birds seem more trusting, the colours seem deeper, and it's full of plants you don't find any old where. It's homely and exotic at the same time. Sometimes it's a place of the imagination, like Narnia or Shangri-La. Sometimes it comes from a childhood memory, or from a single happy day in a delicious doomed love affair. Sometimes it's a real place that you daren't go back to, for fear that it has changed. Or you have.

For me the most important of all such places is uncompromisingly real. I realised that it was going to be forever special, in a deeply personal way, the first night I was there and awoke in the middle of the night to find that someone was eating my hut.

I looked out into the dark to see half-a-dozen still darker shapes, moving on vast bedroom-slippered feet and feeding on generous trunkfulls of thatch from my roof. I awoke again the following morning to realise that this wasn't a dream at all, for the ground outside was covered in fallen grass and littered with the vast damp loaves of elephant. Since that night I have pursued a double fascination, a double-enchantment. The first is with the Laungwa Valley in Zambia, to which I have returned many times and seen the place in all its moods and its seasons. The second is with the idea of the Sacred Combe: the secret places of the soul, humanity's heartland.

Sometimes it's a place of the imagination, like Narnia or Shangri-La. Sometimes it comes from a childhood memory, or from a single happy day in a delicious doomed love affair. Sometimes it's a real place that you daren't go back to, for fear that it has changed.

I write these words from another such place: from my writing-hut that overlooks our scant few acres of Norfolk marsh, which we manage for wildlife. Since that last full-stop I have – no shred of exaggeration – turned my head to watch a marsh harrier sweeping across the vast sky: a fabulous bid of prey that was once down to a single breeding pair in this country. Yesterday a barn owl stopped 15 yards from my desk to see if the fence-post worked as a hunting-perch.

In short, it's a great tribute to my strength of character that I ever get anything written.

So I ask again: what's yours?

Obviously you're entitled to more than one: you can make your own rules and then break them at will. But a good part of the point is that a Sacred Combe puts you in touch with the wild world: with the world beyond humanity. It's only in such places that we are fully human, for the wild world completes us.

A park where you feed the ducks; a seldom-visited cove you go to on holiday; the place where you always stop on a favourite walk – sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits - or a place where the blackbirds sing in April or the place where you once saw a hedgehog. All these places count and so do many more. They are all deeply personal, and they are all filled with the richness of non-human life. And that's a Sacred Combe for you.

So, what is yours?

Simon's new book The Sacred Combe: A Search for Humanity's Heartland is published by Bloomsbury and available from Amazon.

By Simon Barnes

Twitter: @simonbarneswild

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 14-Jan-16 17:54:30


Galen Thu 14-Jan-16 18:03:33


rubysong Thu 14-Jan-16 18:28:27

We have a favourite beach on the south Cornwall coast. It has safe swimming and interesting rocks to explore. No facilities and a long walk from the nearest car park but it is a wonderful, peaceful place and never overcrowded. We can be in the water in an hour from home.

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 14-Jan-16 18:31:34

Cold old night like this, I'm with you there Galen! (Well, not exactly with you grin)

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 14-Jan-16 18:32:35

I saw a dead water rat by the river today. Is that enough wildlife for you?

NotTooOld Thu 14-Jan-16 18:44:59

'dead water rat' - sounds like HE could have done with a haven. Are you offering, Galen?!!

Liz46 Thu 14-Jan-16 18:57:40

Sri Lanka. I have not returned, partly because there has been a tsunami since I went and also because I am frightened it would not live up to the memories. As we arrived at the hotel and walked to our room, there were flowers and gorgeous, scented frangipani trees. It was beautiful and as I walked through an archway of flowers, next to the pool, I thought 'I belong here'.

downtoearth Fri 15-Jan-16 13:47:08

on the settee hidden behind a book,even the holding of one or looking at one is soothing,thinking of the magic that lay within and the pure escapism of a good story .

Anniebach Fri 15-Jan-16 14:04:04

Difficult, Cwmtydu Bay or my sofa

Alima Fri 15-Jan-16 14:15:01

My garden, especially on a warm sunny day.

Imperfect27 Fri 15-Jan-16 14:51:53

The ruins at Reculver. I love their majesty and drama. I had my fourth date there with my OH. We went for a picnic on a searing hot September afternoon and I realised I was falling in love with him and thought 'Oh help, I am in trouble here,' but he was mad enough to marry me smile smile smile

Maranta Fri 15-Jan-16 15:42:33

That's a good one Anniebach. My other choice would be a particular place on the north west coast of Scotland but I'm not going to name it wink

Atqui Fri 15-Jan-16 15:47:48

It would be Isles of Scilly if I could afford it!

Elrel Fri 15-Jan-16 16:17:17

The Lake District - I lived and worked there for a few months and loved it, so beautiful.

Anniebach Fri 15-Jan-16 16:24:16

Maranta smile it's just so beautiful and secluded isn't it - I mean the bay not my sofa

annodomini Fri 15-Jan-16 16:29:00

Western Highlands - Arisaig to Morar. Beautiful beyond words.

Anya Fri 15-Jan-16 16:50:47

Army Bay New Zealand

morethan2 Fri 15-Jan-16 17:54:19

I went to Revello in Italy and could have wept at the beauty of it. Kerry in Ireland was breathtaking too. The little villages in Greece with the sea and a mountain backdrop are perfect, but the happiest place I know is our local park. Full of beautiful trees and filled with my best memories and the sound of families with dogs and/ or children. ( there's even the occasional dead rat)

Greyduster Fri 15-Jan-16 18:29:04

I'll second that anno! I've been on tropical islands that don't look as tropical as Morar. For me, though, my haven is nearer home, on the banks of Ladybower Reservoir, with good fish rising no more than a few feet out, curlews calling on the surrounding moorland and, more often than not, the place to myself. Heaven.

Willow500 Sat 16-Jan-16 07:57:07

Rivendell - well I'm sure it would be if it really existed smile

tiredoldwoman Sat 16-Jan-16 09:34:46

I love the Eden estuary here in St.Andrews . Once when life was bad I headed to my other sanctuary - The Pineapple at Dunmore near Falkirk .
Bed and day dreams are good , too !

annodomini Sat 16-Jan-16 10:22:04

tiredoldwoman. St Andrews! Love it all, but perhaps not for sanctuary. When we were little and visited granny we came to St A to swim and eat ice cream; later I spent four years as a student. Do you live there? How lovely.

henetha Sat 16-Jan-16 10:34:09

Dartmoor, only ten minutes drive from here. I am so lucky.
(I also love the Isles of Scilly, Atqui).

rubylady Sat 16-Jan-16 23:07:22

My bed or settee, with teddy bear cuddle blankets and my vibrating pad.

But, I have just booked a week away in Morecambe for March and it is in an apartment, basement rooms with a bed in the living room. So if it is cold, I can put the fire on and snuggle up in bed watching tele, just me and my doggie. I am really looking forward to it, it's the first time in this apartment, hope many more to come. smile