Celebrating the best books written about nature and UK travel, John Lewis-Stempel’s moving book ‘Where Poppies Blow – The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War’ has been announced as the winner of the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. Countryfile presenter Matt Baker was prize judge for the event, which took place at Countryfile Live in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire last weekend.
As remembrance was shown for the Battle of Passchendaele last week, ‘Where Poppies Blow’ rather fittingly explores British soldiers’ experiences in the First World War. The focus, however, is primarily on the soldiers’ relationships with the animals and plants surrounding them – providing both a distraction and a symbol of constant endurance, as they still are today. Such themes are articulated through poems, extracts of letters, field notes and diary entries, providing a detailed and intimate account of the Western Front. The book was picked up by Countryfile writer Rachel Stiles earlier in the year, who described it as “heart-wrenching” yet “fascinating”.
This is the second time John has won the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize: Meadowland, a year-long study of a field on his farm, took the £5000 award in 2015. The strong competition that Where Poppies Blow faced this year, including Stephen Moss’ Wild Kingdom and Clover Stroud’s Wild Other, is indicative of the renewed interest in nature and UK travel writing.
The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize is now in its fourth year and seeks to celebrate books which echo nature writer Alfred Wainwright’s aim to get readers exploring the outdoors and develop a respect for the natural world.