by Amy Liptrot
I have never been to Orkney, but having read this book, it is now high up on my list of places to visit.
The outrun is a memoir of recovery. When Amy Liptrot leaves London and returns to her childhood home in Orkney aged thirty – she is just a few months sober. Broken by alcohol addiction, she has lost multiple jobs, her boyfriend, many friends, damaged her health and much of her self-worth. She does not intend to stay very long but finds her bond to the wild and windswept lands of her childhood filling in the ragged void in her life that booze has left behind.
Over the course of the book, Amy Liptrot comes to terms with herself, her behaviours and compulsions, by immersing herself in the natural surroundings of the islands. We go bird-spotting, lambing, star gazing and wild swimming with her. The nature she knows is not puffy white clouds in blue skies, it is furious gales and waves that can beach whales and wreck boats along the shore. It is a wild and unpredictable power outside of herself that she chooses to devote herself to.
To write about the recovery, you must first describe the wound and the weakness, which this book does in a raw, physical and, at times, painfully honest way. In her descriptions of the danger, frustration and loneliness of addiction Liptrot is vulnerable and exposed to us, but her written voice remains strong and absorbing.
What I found particularly striking about this book was the author’s distinctly modern approach to nature writing, energetically embracing current technology and merging it effortlessly with the ancient natural surroundings of Orkney. Liptrot shares moments of the island’s history, recounts mythology, explains traditions and passes on folktales. She also tracks the distance of her rambles with GPS, uses an astrology App to spot and name the constellations, watches seals romp on the beach at night through a live webcam stream, discusses her shoreline discoveries on Facebook and Twitter and makes recordings of the wind and rain battering at her cottage windows.
‘The Outrun’ began as regular articles written for CaughtbytheRiver.net, a website which describes itself as “an online meeting place for pursuits of a distinctly non-digital variety: walking, fishing, looking, thinking… Life’s small pleasures, in all their many flavours.”
Amy Liptrot is proud of her home and wants passionately to share it. To her, the online world is not the enemy of the natural world, but a force which allows others access to her remote location, it allows her to discover, to share and to celebrate Orkney and surrounding islands.
There are things about the sea you find out only by being in it. The waves carry stones, large pebbles suspended in the water, thrown around effortlessly. I watch from a seal’s-eye perspective, a gull descends and lands on the water. It seems not to have noticed me. One morning, the sky is reflected in the flat water and I’m swimming in clouds.