Recently I’ve been very much interested in books with a great sense of place, and I’ve discovered a phenomenal text – Edgelands: Journeys Into England’s True Wilderness, by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, who are poets, though this is prose (of a very beautiful kind). It’s aim is to examine edgelands, areas of our landscape where urban meets rural, on the fringes of society; parts of the UK that have been overlooked or simply considered offensive to our senses. Not exactly wastelands, for they are very much places of function – from paths to lofts, to ruins to motorway verges, to canals and landfills. These are the places at the periphery of our vision, there perhaps out of accident or simply because we choose not to look.
On summer nights, the edgelands become the domain of boy racers and their newly pimped rides. Some are there to put their souped-up engines through their paces, roaring down the long straight strips, burning rubber in the empty car parks. Others are there to park with doors open, lid lifted on a polished engine, oversized sound system cranked up full. These cars are electric purple, crimson, lurid green… Third- or fourth-hand, they changed owners for hundreds, not thousands. Then one day a customiser spotted them, the old Capris and Golfs, the former rep cars and hot hatches. Someone saw their potential and was willing to sink hours and pounds into giving them another heyday. Mutton dressed as lamb, they stand in resolute defiance of government scrappage schemes, ecological maxims, the laws of suburban driving. These are edgelands chimeras, beautiful, garish freaks.
For a more in-depth review, see the Independent. It’s beautiful, an important book full of the best descriptive writing I’ve read in a long time.
Finally, my review of Walk! A Celebration of Striding Out is up at the Ecologist:
Walking is a simple pastime but in Walk!, Colin Speakman imbues it with such romanticism, science, environmentalism and politics, that a country hike becomes an expression of freedom as well as medicine for the body and soul. Perhaps most important of all though, is that Speakman achieves his purpose – to inspire people to get outside and walk.
One of the things I’m really enjoying about reviewing for the Ecologist is the sheer variety of texts and ideas I’ve come across. This is another wonderful book, and really reveals the political and social importance of our simple ‘walk in the country’.