I had never heard of L.A. Knight before I spotted a lovely vintage hardback edition of one of his pieces of nature writing, The Morlo, whilst browsing on Etsy. The very fact that I could find little information about it, save that its focus was on seals in Pembrokeshire in Wales, piqued my interest further, and I ordered myself a copy at the tail-end of 2017. It is so neglected, in fact, that I had to add the book’s Goodreads page myself.
The Morlo is a slim volume, running to just 62 pages in the first edition hardback, with the inclusion of charming old-fashioned illustrations by Peter Scott. In his short introduction, Knight writes that he wrote this particular book as a tribute to those who go out on lifeboats in all weathers in order to save those who are in trouble at sea. Knight dedicates his tome to them, writing: ‘If this book has caught something of their spirit and of the elements in which they perform their deeds it will have done its work.’
I have surmised that The Morlo, named after the Welsh word for the seal and literally meaning ‘calf of the sea’, is a work of memoir rather than fiction, despite Knight’s lulling narrative voice, which does at times suggest that this is a fictionalised account. Whilst writing a little of the coastguards and their work, this is focused upon one particular man, Davy Tregoran, and his rescue of a baby seal on Madryn Beach, who later comes back to visit him year after year. Tregoran is incredibly well informed about the seals and their colony, and imparts many details onto Knight in his research for this particular tome. Of the morlos, Tregoran imparts: ‘But “morlos” they are to me, and I love them all, from the battle-scarred old bulls, and the gentle cows with their marbled jackets and eyes, down to the little cruts of youngsters with their coats as fresh as the blossom of a blackthorn.’
Knight talks of the land beautifully, describing it with such care and attention to detail. Of the slice of Pembrokeshire beach which is at the focus of The Morlo, he writes: ‘It was a secluded part of the coast, and there were rocky ledges and shelving strands of pebbles on the pocket-handkerchief beach which made ideal nurseries.’ He clearly has a love of the place, visiting it time and again, and his descriptions of the same stretch of coastline throughout the seasons are a delight to read: ‘In calm summer days the glittering seas and the blue and red rocks are enchanting, and the sun is reflected from the water as from the points of a million spears. The waves lap softly around the feet of the cliffs, and the golden tide-wrack rises and falls as rhythmically as the chest of a sleeping giant.’ Knight captures movement and stormy conditions particularly well. He continually appreciates the world around him, and passes this love of nature onto his reader.
In The Morlo, Knight has produced a lovely piece of travel and nature writing, with prose which hums in both its beauty and sadness. It is a passionate and beautifully written account of the waters around St. David’s, whose ‘great headland… thrusts itself like a clenched fist into some of the most turbulent seas in the world.’ As a piece of nostalgia, The Morlo is just as lovely to read as one would surely find in coming to it for the purposes of natural history. Quaint and lovely, The Morlo holds so much appeal. The world gone by which Knight shows us is still remarkably recognisable, and the book is a real treat to discover.