Ronald Blythe lived at the end of an overgrown farm track deep in the rolling countryside of the Stour Valley, on the border between Suffolk and Essex. His home was Bottengoms Farm, a sturdy yeoman's house once owned by the artist John Nash. From here, Blythe spent almost half a century observing the slow turn of the agricultural year, the church year and village life in a series of rich, lyrical rural diaries. Beginning with the arrival of snow on New Year's Day and ending with Christmas carols sung in the village church, Next to Nature invites us to witness a simple life richly lived. With gentle wit and keen observation Blythe meditates on his life and faith, on literature, art and history, and on our place in the landscape. It is a celebration of one of our greatest nature writers, and an unforgettable ode to the English countryside.
My favourite read of the year . . . I do not know of another work that lets you so directly into another person's mind and memory . . . a warm, funny and moving nature memoir -- John Carey * Sunday Times * Blythe is a writer whose pages you turn and then turn back immediately to re-read, relish and get by heart particular phrases and images . . . We should be grateful to have him and his beautiful pages, and for the privilege of spending so many ordinary and yet rare and precious days in his company -- SUSAN HILL * Telegraph 5* review * A capacious book that contains multitudes . . . It is a work to amble through, seasonally, relishing the vivid dashes of colour and the precision and delicacy of the descriptions * The Spectator * The greatest living writer on the English countryside . . . Blythe's writing dances with self-deprecating wit, rebellious asides, sharp portraits of fellow writers and notes of worldliness -- Patrick Barkham * Guardian * Ronald Blythe's eye and voice bring the countryside alive like a Brueghel painting. All the charm, wonder, eccentricity and vigour of country life is here in these pages, and told with such engaging directness, detail and colour. To immerse yourself in this East Anglian year is be reminded of why we love and value the rhythms and realities of rural life. Bliss -- STEPHEN FRY A book of priceless wisdom . . . to read as the year unfolds. My Blythe has a great, often droll sense of humour . . . and writes with a spry, unforced elegance * Country Life * [His diary] is the best of his writing, its light as air and full of philosophy. . . a wonderful, original, pure tapestry. He could time travel within a single sentence, going from personal to local to global. Being with Ronnie Blythe in one of his books is like being on a magic carpet, the exhilaration of being alive, and of nature, and the world -- Ian Collins * Today Programme * Next to Nature is the perfect memorial, a latter-day Book of Hours . . . I'm resolved to return to this monthly for amusement, inspiration and comfort -- Christina Hardyment * The Times, Audiobook of the Week * A near-legendary chronicler of a particular patch of countryside and country life * Times Radio * The prose is fresher than most contemporary nature writing and, unlike many still-living nature writers, Blythe is concerned with people who live and work in the countryside -- Patrick Galbraith * The Times * Praise for Ronald Blythe England's greatest living country writer * Independent * Blythe's observations of nature are as unforced as breathing, and his descriptions are precise, celebratory and unexpected . . . [He] seduces even the irreligious reader into an appreciation of the meshing of the temporal and the timeless * Guardian * One of our best writers . . . Next to Nature is a hoard of observation, gossip and stories designed to take you through the year, with something rich and strange on every page -- Hilary Spurling * The Spectator, Books of the Year 2022 * [Ronald Blythe] is an English institution . . . he lives with a deep, authentic sense of wonder * TLS * Some of the most beautiful and precise prose in modern English . . . an expansive exploration of how land scapes, humans, and words interact, touched with great humanity. . . He is our tribal storyteller, plugged into a common stream of inquisitive conversation that joins us as a species -- RICHARD MABEY One of the great prose stylists on the twentieth century . . . a modern Hazlitt -- MARK COCKER The finest rural historian of our times * Country Life * It would be difficult to find . . . a sensibility which is richer or better fed, more deeply watered and manured, more drenched in Englishness -- ADAM NICOLSON [His] minute observation of places, people and plants, his ear for scraps of dialogue and his feeling for poetry and painting make everything about those days immediate . . . [He has] a deep of love of the place - and of humanity -- MAGGI HAMBLING The best portrait of modern rural life in England, subtle and compassionate -- ROGER DEAKIN, on Akenfield The doyen of writers about the natural world in England -- MICHAEL McCARTHY Reading this book is to be in the company of a supremely sensitive observer who has spent a lifetime seeing and scenting nature . . . His writing delights. His wry humour surprises. * Methodist Recorder *