Where Is 'H Is For Hawk' Set?

by Sadie Trombetta

Memoirs of grief are raw and emotional books often filled with thoughts about love and loss, regret and nostalgia, and, of course, life and death, but Helen Macdonald's 2015 runaway bestseller is something so much more. From the opening line to its final pages, Macdonald's book is filled with beautiful nature imagery and vivid descriptions so breathtaking that they will cause such serious wanderlust, you will need to find out exactly where H is for Hawk is set. You might want to get your passport ready now.

In H Is for Hawk , Helen Macdonald chronicles the time she devoted to adopting, raising, and training a goshawk following the devastating loss of her beloved father. Overcome with grief and overwhelmed with a feeling like her life was ending, Macdonald, who was a longtime naturalist and falconer, threw herself into her hobby, forming and intense bond with Mabel, the falcon, that saved her life.

While training Mabel, Macdonald spent a lot of her time in the great outdoors in her home country of England. While she wasn't teaching Mabel tricks in the fields around Cambridge University, the college Macdonald teaches at, she took the bird to the Brecklands in southern Norfolk country. An unusual landscape that is both natural and completely unnatural, the Brecklands are a forested area scarred by war, where sand and pine meet abandoned military bases and crumbling houses. It's the place where Macdonald used to go with her father to watch birds, it is where she returns to find a goshawk after he died, and it also becomes one of the most important, not to mention alluring, settings in the book. It's a wild place where nature and man have collided, and a place where adapting to new changes really count. It's no wonder Macdonald felt comfortable here.

From the peaceful meadows of Cambridge to the twisted forests of the Brecklands, the setting of H Is for Hawk is as captivating as Macdonald and Mabel themselves. And, in case you need more convincing, here are 7 beautiful quotes about the setting of H Is for Hawk that will not only inspire to read Macdonald's book, but to take a trip across the pond.

1. "Forty-five minutes north-east of Cambridge is a landscape I’ve come to love very much indeed. It’s where wet fen gives way to parched sand. It’s a land of twisted pine trees, burnt-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs and US Air Force bases. There are ghosts here: houses crumble inside numbered blocks of pine forestry. There are spaces built for air-delivered nukes inside grassy tumuli behind 12ft fences, tattoo parlours and US Air Force golf courses. In spring it’s a riot of noise: constant plane traffic, gas-guns over pea fields, woodlarks and jet engines. It’s called the Brecklands – the broken lands – and it’s where I ended up that morning, seven years ago, in early spring, on a trip I hadn’t planned at all."

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2. "I feel I might be up there, because now the hill is home. I know it intimately. Every hedgerow, every track through dry grass where the hares cut across field-boundaries, each discarded piece of rusted machinery, every earth and warren and tree. By the road, half an acre of fenced-off mud, scaled with tyre-tracks and water reflecting pieces of sky. Wagtails, pallets, tractors, a broken silo on its side like a fallen rocket stage. Here is the sheep-field, there is the clover ley, now mown and turned to earth. Further up the track are tracts of mugwort: dead now from frost, seeds clinging to stems and branches like a billion musty beads on ragged Christmas trees. Piles of bricks and rubble run along the left-hand side of the track, and the earth between them is soft and full of rabbits. Further up the hill the hedges are higher, and by the time I get to the top the track has narrowed into grass. Cow parsley. Knapweed. Wild burdock. The argillaceous shimmer of tinder-fine clay. Drifts of chalk beneath. Yellowhammers chipping in the hedges. Cumulus rubble. The maritime light of this island, set as it is under a sky mirrored and uplit by sea.."

3. “I love it because of all the places I know in England, it feels to me the wildest. It’s not an untouched wilderness like a mountaintop, but a ramshackle wildness in which people and the land have conspired to strangeness.”

4. "I slammed the rusting door, and set off with my binoculars through a forest washed pewter with frost. Pieces of this place had disappeared since I was last here. I found squares of wrecked ground; clear-cut broken acres with torn roots and drying needles strewn in the sand. Clearings. That's what I needed."

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5. “Give me a paper and pencil now and ask me to draw a map of the fields I roamed about when I was small, and I cannot do it. But change the question, and ask me to list what was there and I can fill pages. The wood ants’ nest. The newt pond. The oak covered in marble galls. The birches by the motorway fence with fly agarics at their feet. These things were the waypoints of my world.”

6. “Great tracts of reindeer moss, for example: tiny stars and florets and inklings of an ancient flora growing on exhausted land. Crisp underfoot in summer, the stuff is like a patch of the arctic fallen into the world in the wrong place. Everywhere, there are bony shoulders and blades of flint. On wet mornings you can pick up shards knocked from flint cores by Neolithic craftsmen, tiny flakes of stone glowing in thin coats of cold water.”

7. "But there's more, much more here: down at the bottom of the valley, where the river would be were there water, is a herd of thirty fallow deer. They are the colour of moleskin on their backs, shading to pale grey underneath [...] I want to interact with them in some way. I want to get closer. And as I do, the pressure of my impending arrival pushes single deer off to the right, and they walk, then canter, in a long line, along the bottom of the valley and up to the wood at the far edle of the field, a good half-mile away. They are bewitching."

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Images: Nicolai Duerbaum, Joseph Young, Elijiah Henderson, Paul Earle, Toni Lluch/Unsplash