Nature Cure by Richard Mabey

Nature Cure describes well-known British naturalist and author Richard Mabey’s recovery from a severe depression.

From the publisher’s blurb:

Rediscover the extraodinary power of nature and the British wilderness, from award-winning naturalist and author Richard Mabey

In the last year of the old millennium, Richard Mabey, Britain’s foremost nature writer, fell into a severe depression. The natural world – which since childhood had been a source of joy and inspiration for him – became meaningless.

Then, cared for by friends, he moved to East Anglia and he started to write again. Having left the cosseting woods of the Chiltern hills for the open flatlands of Norfolk, Richard Mabey found exhilaration in discovering a whole new landscape and gained fresh insights into our place in nature.

Structured as intricately as a novel, a joy to read, truthful, exquisite and questing, Nature Cure is a book of hope, not just for individuals, but for our species.

My review

At the start of the book we find Richard Mabey in bed, blankly gazing at the wall, unmotivated to do much at all. But encouraged by friends and realizing the need for a change of air, he uproots himself from the family house in the Chilterns, England where he and his sister have lived for 110 years between them, and heads off to East Anglia to live in a room in a farmhouse.

His room is “like a small forest” with “more oak inside it than out.” And here he strings up a series of low-energy lamps and makes his nest, amazingly not with a computer but two manual typewriters.

Throughout, Mabey describes his breakdown and steady recovery with his characteristic laid-back style, like your favourite uncle relating exploits from a distant past. We get a glimpse of what may have caused his freefall into depression when he describes what it takes to be a full-time writer: “doggedness to be alone in a room for a very long time.”

His honesty is admirable. Owning up to depression is never easy, even these days, perhaps especially for a successful writer at the pinnacle of his career (he had just completed the epic and lauded Flora Brittanica). Even more difficult was when depression robbed him of his desire to write: “it made me lose that reflex, it was like losing the instinct to put one foot in front of the other.” But obviously Mabey regained that reflex, and how he did is very touching – and through writing he began to unlock “pieces of me that had been dormant for years.”

His style is warmly conversational, making the book easy and pleasurable to read, despite the subject matter. He gently leads you from subject to subject, so that you forget where the conversation started. One moment he is describing wild horses on Redgrove Fen, and his musings about their origins leads to cave paintings in France and then to local Stone Age flint mines in Norfolk, and somehow to Virginia Woolf and moats and the author Roger Deakin. Is this what he refers to later as “free-range reading?”

A criticism was brewing in my mind – that Mabey was simply too nice. But then around halfway he criticizes David Attenborough! I had to re-read the paragraph to make sure I was not mistaken. I wasn’t. He even called a scene from Attenborough’s “The Life of Mammals” a freak show. Interesting.

Nature Cure is definitely a recommended read, for anyone interested in good writing about nature, and the cure he describes might well be of benefit to others suffering from depression too.


  1. A great review, Denzil. I believe the best way out of depression is a walk in the woods soaking up the landscapes, waterscapes, seeing wildlife and beautiful wildflowers. One of the reasons I moved from suburban Sacramento, California to rural Eastern Washington to be closer to nature. I look out my window and not only see pine forests and mountains, but also deer grazing nearby and the occasional moose. I know you appreciate nature by your love of photography. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a lovely view you describe Terri, you are very fortunate. Even those of us living in towns or more suburban areas have to make efforts to find a bit of nature and peace where we can. I am pleased to hear of major cities insisting that new housing developments now are forced to provide a certain area of green space for residents.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We got lucky with this move north. We’re also closer to family. I worked in the public parks and recreation field for 40 years, then taught college students who studied in park management. I was still surprised to see public school playgrounds fenced and locked. More housing developments are indeed adding green spaces.

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  2. Interesting. It sounds as if Mabey was already in a rural area, and he moved to one which wouldn’t work for me. I need hills, even mountains to stir my soul, and while I like East Anglia, it only works in short bursts for me, not being hilly enough. Still, it’s not about me! And I’ve been a fan of Mabey since he wrote Food for Free, and foraged long before it became a bit of a general ‘thing’, so I’d certainly give this book a whirl – thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. always looking for good non-fiction. thanks for the review. it’s about time David Attenborough gets knocked down a peg from his affable guy throne lol just kidding. i wonder what he could possibly have against him? or does he know something about David that the world doesn’t?


  4. Thanks for the review Denzil, I’ve read other books by him but not this one and it’s not what I thought it was about from hearing the title. It’s on my to read list but you’ve given me more motivation to read it sooner.

    Liked by 1 person

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