Julian Roup latest book, Into the Secret Heart of Ashdown Forest – A Horseman’s Country Diary, is a lyrical book is a love letter to Ashdown Forest after a 40-year affair. It is also a book of spiritual renewal during a time of the pandemic in which a return to the woods offers answers.
Wry, funny, moving and vivid, this memoir chronicles the life of the author and the ten square miles of country he calls home. This book is as good as a brisk walk in the woods on an autumn day. But it is also about entering nature to find yourself and to find the way forward for humanity and the earth.
Written with love and passion it is a hymn to landscape and freedom. It is a close and deep observation of the writer’s adopted country the fabled Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England, (the home of Winnie the Pooh) where he has lived and ridden for the past 40 years.
His gift is the ability to take you deep into the landscapes that make this place resonate in his heart: its streams, woods, and heathlands. You meet its literary residents A.A. Milne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ezra Pound, and W.B. Yeats. You get beneath its skin among the networks of fungi that allow the trees to speak. You taste its foods, meet its locals both the living and the ghosts; and see its huge importance during the plague year 20–21 through the pandemic lockdowns.
His passion for horses shines through these pages and his writing is, as he himself says, a form of ‘moving meditation’. He takes you under the soil of this place, and he leaves a soft glow on the landscape when he is gone.
The 22 essays in the book are small narrative jewels of landscape, horses, friendship, and a search for belonging: what it means to feel part of a place, having lost the one he was born to in South Africa’s Cape.
In him Ashdown has found a new voice. Having read this book you will see the forest through his eyes as a place of magic. This is nature writing at its best, echoing that of Roger Deacon and Robert Macfarlane.
The author, Julian Roup says of this book: ‘After the best part of a year in lockdown thanks to COVID-19 it became clear to me as never before how much I owed to the place that has been my home for 40 years – Ashdown Forest in East Sussex – and to my horses who have carried me across its green miles. The forest and the horses have brought me health and peace and deep spiritual contentment when in fact life offered just the opposite.
‘The pandemic truly brought it home to me how important nature is to our well-being. So this book is a thank you to the forest and to the horses, particularly my newest horse, Callum, the big chestnut Irish Sports Horse who has been my companion during this plague year. On his back I have reconnected in a deeper way with the forest and seen how and why we need to cherish what remains of the wild places.’
The book is illustrated by the talented East Grinstead artist and horsewoman Abbie Hart.