Chris Yates, at the Nightwalk book launch, Rough Trade, London, 26 April 2012. Photo by Brian Stevens.
A review by Kevin Parr.
Every few years someone will stumble upon a piece of cane poking from the undergrowth. They will give it a curious tug and spot the rings and whippings and realise that it’s a fishing rod; and as they keep pulling, so a bearded smile will emerge, and Chris Yates will shake off the dust and reveal another piece of his self to the world.
For over twenty-five years, Yates’ words have remained close to the water, and in angling circles, his writings have become almost mythological.
Many have been inspired, and other writers have tried to ape his style, perhaps not deliberately – they, too, have simply been affected – but always in failure. You simply cannot write retrospectively. It is impossible to recreate a feeling that simply wasn’t there at that moment.
Chris certainly does feel it. And see it and live it and breathe it. From the moment we join him at the start of Nightwalk, with the sun setting behind the twin oaks across the valley, so we are with him – pushing through the trees, catching the scent of elderflowers and the honeyed perfume of trees. Even clenching our toes at the thought of his own; damp as they become within unwaterproofed boots.
Chris clearly embraces the dark hours. Existing as he does in a world outside of the nine to five drudge. But it is this ability to have rejected convention that has allowed him to maintain his childlike fascination with the world around him. He will walk off into the night with no route or agenda in mind, and certainly without any shackles of time. And with no rush, no hurry, and the opportunity to immerse himself wherever and whenever he is drawn, so he sees and feels so much more from the coo of a woodpigeon, the barrelled bustle of a badger, and his wonderful ‘magic marbles’ – the snails, stimulated by rainfall and pouring their way up a treetrunk towards a feast of leaves.
The thread of Nightwalk is a walk Chris made last June, an annual stroll where his feet will lead him through the entire night, pausing only for the rising of the moon and sun, and the countless other distractions along the way.
He describes this particular walk as ‘meandering’ and this is reflected wonderfully in the style of his text. Chris will be rapt by a roe buck, or a hare, or the ascent of a skylark, and so the narrative will wander with his mind. He stirs memories of previous encounters, from his own childhood and through the infant experiences of his own children. Some of his musings are poignant, some infectiously excitable. The sad decline of the nightingale is countered by the arrival of the raven and kite. But at no point are we bombarded by endless facts and statistics, these are very much the observations of a man with a deep respect and appreciation of the environment around him. Such is Chris’ demeanour, however, and his willingness to pause and involve, that he discovers behaviours that you would struggle to find documented in a typical nature guide.
Wherever Chris’ reflections take us, there is always something to bring us back to the present. A movement of air, an adjustment of light. Even a flatulent sheep is sufficient to keep us from drifting completely away from the footsteps in the darkness.
Never does the narrative become stretched or soggy, instead our eyes are opened to another world. A different kind of world, and not simply on a nocturnal level. We are given insight into pace, depth and utter enchantment that can be found in a world where we so often walk blinkered.
Normally, the present is just a transition point, a bit of a blur between one thing and the next, yet in the untroubled and mostly unrevealing dark, past and future have less relevance and I can find myself in a place of endless immediacy, a place known to every wild animal, a timelessness
Chris’ existing and extensive fan-base, the anglers, will find a freedom in Nightwalk that has not, perhaps, been evident since Casting at the Sun. He seems liberated by the absence of fish and by the fear of treading on banks from which he has already cast. The result is prose that feels wonderfully unencumbered. In fact, I believe this is Chris’ finest work to date, though I may be swayed by the fact that it is so fresh in my mind.
What is certain, though, is that Nightwalk will delight for many, many years to come.
Nightwalk, is published by Collins. Copies are on sale from the Caught by the River shop, priced £12.00
Information on The Twitch, Kevin Parr’s as yet unpublished novel can be found here.