Caught by the River

The Fat of the Land

10th February 2017

This week, Little Toller published its brand new edition of The Fat of the Land – John Seymour’s seminal guide to self-sufficiency, first published in 1961. This new edition comes complete with Sally Seymour’s original illustrations, a foreword by Anne Seymour, and a new introduction by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. You can buy a copy here.

More than fifty years on, The Fat of the Land remains an important and inspiring work, as highlighted by Richard King’s case for its inclusion in our Nature Book Reader, reprinted below for your reading pleasure:

When John Seymour sat down to write The Fat of the Land at the end of the 1950s, he would have shrugged off as ridiculous any suggestion that his story of converting a gamekeeper’s cottage in Suffolk would become a textbook for the trip back to nature that thousands would embark on in the next two decades.

The Fat of the Land is a rambling and wonderfully stubborn description of a family trying to live off five acres of farmland and little else. Illustrated beautifully by Seymour’s wife Sally, it’s hard not to be seduced by its willing subjugation to the earth. Seymour gleefully admits to a never-ending series of mistakes and bad decisions in establishing a truly rural base for his family. This sense of ad hoc peasantry was no doubt a pull on anyone considering fleeing the city. But as Seymour reminds us on page after page, getting it together in the country means sixteen hour days of butchery, aching backs, frozen knees saturated in blood and mire — and no money. Instead an almost visionary delight at the world around you:

‘Our flower garden is a thing still in our imagination…but there are wild flowers, and blossoms on the wild plum trees, and the beautiful woods and marshes, and the cries of the marsh birds coming to us at night as we lie in bed, and the song of the nightingales in the summer time.’

Seymour, for all his stress on toil and sweat, is not without romance either:

“My own belief is that — if a man is entitled to nothing else — he is entitled to his share of the land surface of his own country”.

I would have paid good money to see Seymour argue his case to the Countryside Alliance or whoever they thought they were back then.

The Seymours moved to Pembrokeshire where John died in 2004. To think of him up in the Preselis, overlooking Carningli, dotted with houses and settlements, where his books no doubt reside on nearly every shelf, is as enriching, exhilarating, and as singular a pleasure, as listening to The Lark Ascending.


The Fat of the Land is available here in the Caught by the River shop, priced £12.00.

The Nature Book Reader is a compendium of nature book recommendations from some of our favourite people. You can browse it here.

Richard King on Caught by the River/on Twitter