The Shining Levels: Book Review

The Shining Levels

You all know that I don’t normally write book reviews but today is different.

Over the weekend I read one of those books out of that box of books I bought Saturday afternoon. It was The Shining Levels by John Wyatt, it is autobiographical of his time as an estate worker in the Lake District.

As far as I can remember, this is only the second autobiography I’ve ever read, the other being Gordon Banks autobiography aeons ago. I find I have to let you all in on this one though. Although my copy is rather tired it is a fantastic read, especially if you are interested in a way of life that has all but disappeared. Mr Wyatt takes a job as an estate worker, his main tasks are coppicing, ditch digging and what ever else his employer sees fit. This includes things like catching moths for the Majors (the estate owner) collection, or gathering information about the local fauna and flora.

We also discover how it is to really live in the wild as Mr Wyatt builds his own hut in the woods and lives in it when he is out coppicing. We learn how he builds his own oven and the meals he learns to cook out in the open. We also learn what it is like to have a job you love yet receive little more than a small stone hut to live in, food and a wonderful way of life in payment.

You also get to meet several characters along the way, Dave who is a local farmhand who has a secret love of trees and will drive miles to see a certain specimen. George a big hulk of a man who like the Major, likes nothing more than going on a moth hunt. The Major himself who regularly goes on deer hunts yet bags nothing more than a covering of bites.

Most of the story is backdropped by the roe deer that Mr Wyatt adopts, he calls the deer ‘Buck’ and we get to learn all about Bucks behaviour and the way he takes to his new ‘mother’.

There is also quite a bit of humour, one account of the author going out with a few mates to see if they could bag some pheasants is hilarious.

To say I enjoyed this book would be an understatement. It reminded me of when I was a kid growing up in a village surrounded by a large estate with workers living a very similar life to the one written about in this book. These men may have had very little by most peoples standards but they were rich beyond compare in their way of life. It may have been hard but those I knew would not have swapped it for anything.

The Shining Levels by John Wyatt
Published by Penguin
187 pages
First published in1973 (Penguin 1976)

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  1. sounds like a great autobiography.

    and i really enjoyed hearing about what you thought of the book – i think that is the mark of a good review?

    • It is a brilliant little book, a real find!
      I’m so pleased you liked my review, I rarely write them, I may write more now 😀

  2. I like reading other people’s reviews, but somehow I don’t feel ‘right’ when I’m writing my own (especially if I have to say something that isn’t complimentary – I only like the good stuff!). You wrote a good review here Trevor, and it was good to see how the book reminded you of your past.

    • Thanks Tom, I didn’t really enjoy the process of writing this but it was such a good read I just had to share.
      I think the reminders from my childhood did help a little with the enjoyment of this book for me but I think as long as you like reading about a way of life that has disappeared, the countryside and wildlife, you will enjoy this book.

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