Friday, 22 August 2014

Walking, woods, edgelands and metro-land (summer holiday reading)

A bit of a change of style for my latest post, but still roughly on the same topics. I am, I must admit, a very slow reader, and I go through stages of reading lots and then perhaps don't pick up a book again for a few months. My reading list however over the past few weeks, including some time on holiday where I truly managed to shut off and relax for a while, needless to say had a wandering and psychogeographical element to it. 

Richard Mabey - The Unofficial Countryside
Robert MacFarlane - The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot
Richard Mabey - A Good Parcel of English Soil
Roger Deakin - Wildwood, A Journey Through Trees

The Unofficial Countryside was, amazingly to me, written back in 1973. A forerunner perhaps to the much more recent Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, The Unofficial Countryside chronicles the countryside outside of recognised national parks, the areas between towns and the official countryside, the edgelands. Growing up myself in a London Metro-land suburb in the 1970's, many of the descriptions are familiar to me and left me with a strong urge to revisit the playgrounds of my youth. It brought back in particular one vivid memory of a road bridge on the West End Road at Ruislip Gardens, over the Yeading Brook, just next to the tube station, beneath which there were two small tunnels which carried the brook under the road. You had to climb over the small bridge wall to access the brook at that point, and I'm sure 40 years later that access is almost certainly much more restricted. I remember one of the tunnels was straight and you could clearly see light at the other end. The other had a bend towards the right in it, and it took some courage for a 7 or 8 year old to brave walking into the darkness. Happy days though.

A Good Parcel of English Soil is one of the short books published as a series to commemorate 150 years of the London Underground. This book took me back to my childhood even more than The Unofficial Countryside. Its descriptions of parks, territories, gangs (of a much more innocent nature than today's) was spot on and could have been straight out of my after school and weekend exploits around Ruislip. It's also inspired me to visit areas of Metroland like Chesham, Rickmansworth, etc., that I've never been to. I just need to find the time. I was so impressed by the first book in this series I have just ordered the box set.

Robert MacFarlane's Old Ways didn't bring back any memories in the same way as Richard Mabey's books did, but it did inspire me to get out and about, and take more notice when I'm walking in non-urban areas. I rarely give a thought as to the age or purpose of a footpath, byway or bridleway when I'm walking or cycling along it.

I'm still only halfway through Wildwood, so will possibly comment on that one another time.


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