Book Review: Hidden Nature, A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler

Two years ago at the Garden Museum's Literary Festival one of the sessions I attended was Alys Fowler talking about her recent journies around the canals of Birmingham.  I cannot remember if she said at the time that this would one day be a book, but I remember it as an interesting talk and the pictures and anecdotes on the waterways were fascinating.  I note that at the time I wrote I thought it was a very personal journey, it was indeed so.  Fast forward two years and it is indeed a book but so much more than just a piece of nature writing about West Midlands canals.
The voyage of discovery refers to more than canals, this is also a deeply personal journey that weaves through it the end of Alys's marriage and her realisation that she was in love with a woman.  The book centres around four main characters, Alys, her then husband, her future girlfriend and the West Midlands canal network. There is joy and sadness running through the book, with each step of self-realisation acknowledging the cost to others.

The book focuses on the natural and industrial landscapes, the plants and history of the canals that are explored.  I have come to think of Birmingham as my second home and I loved the description of the area around where I work and of Spaghetti Junction, the gateway to Birmingham for me and many others.  The book is beautifully written, one passage that particularly sang to me:

"I garden because I am. I belong to the garden rather than the other way round. I pour myself, sometimes quite physically, into nature because it is how I make sense of myself and my place in the world."  I can identify strongly with these words.

The book is deeply moving and it was I am pleased that Alys has allowed us to read the journey that she purposely embarked upon and more importantly the journey she then found herself on.  It is a book I am certain  I will read again.

Hidden Nature is published by Hodder and Stoughton

For the purposes of transparency I need to say I was a sent a review copy of this book.  For the purposes of further transparency, if  I had not been I would have bought it anyway.


  1. I remember being told about the talk she gave at the literary Festival about her adventures around the waterway, so when I saw this book for sale I had to get it.

    I will be enjoying it over this coming Easter break when I'm not in the garden pootling.

    1. Hi June - thanks, I hope you enjoy the book.

  2. This book has been on my to be read list since I first heard about it. Thanks for your review Alison.

  3. I'm tempted to rush out and buy this book, especially as she explores the West Mids canals. My sis lives in Wolverhampton and the canals are one of our favourite walks. Gardening and nature is also how I define myself.


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