I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: April 2021

As a female and someone who loves to run and walk in nature, I am incredibly interested in how other women view landscape and place. It feels as though the genre of nature and travel writing is a field dominated by male voices and so I was really excited to read a fresh perspective that felt like it could be closer to my own experience of being outdoors.

In some ways it was a similar experience. Sethi describes the warnings she receives from concerned individuals about a lone female travelling alone and the potential dangers she may encounter. I have encountered feelings of trepidation and nervousness about what I might encounter stepping off the beaten path. There is a moment in the book where she accepts a lift from a young man in a white transit van which made me feel an ominous foreboding; that in some way she was being unwise. I questioned this decision, an acceptance of a lift,  in a way that I would not have if it had been made by a man. And that is partly the point of the book: that all people should be entitled and be able to access the landscape and seek out these natural places without fear and trepidation of being hurt by others.

Anita Sethi’s bravery felt two fold however. Writing not just as a female, but as a female of colour documenting a history of navigating racial intolerance and abuse. Her journey across The Pennines was prompted due to being the victim of an atrocious hate crime that called into question her sense of belonging in a country of where she was both born and raised. The feeling of always wondering whether or not she would be accepted or the victim of racism when she steps out into the natural world is something that I myself as a white person have never had to experience. Sethi writes with a poignant honesty that is both knowledgeable and reflective, calling for the imperative need for awareness and change. She considers how landscape and nature have the ability to restore and generate hope. It struck me that despite all the adversity she had experienced, she was able to write with such redemptive power that it gave me hope. I was bereft when the book ended but felt encouraged about what our relationship with the natural world and each other might hold.

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