Mark McKerracher

Fantasy fiction

Review: The Making of the British Landscape

The Making of the British Landscape, by Nicholas Crane.

The title of this book is pretty accurate: it tells the story of how the British landscape has evolved into its present state since the Ice Age. It’s a title that has been used before (by archaeologist Francis Pryor), but this book is rather different to Pryor’s: it has more of a travelogue feel and, despite being clearly underpinned by plenty of research, it could not really be used as a scholarly guide to archaeological sites and landscape history.

This is understandable, since Crane is a geographer and renowned walker rather than an archaeologist. He is known for (amongst other things) being the eponymous ‘Map Man’ in a TV series of that name – which makes it all the more inexplicable that this book does not include a single map. It’s also a bit strange that he likes to invent his own terminology: for example, the enigmatic prehistoric monument of Silbury Hill becomes, weirdly, the Great Polyhedron, as if that were a more authentic Neolithic moniker.

Oddly, much later in the story, Neil Kinnock is referred to as “a future Prime Minister”. Surely Crane is old enough to remember that although Mr Kinnock was Leader of the Opposition for some years, he never became Prime Minister (and since he is now a septuagenarian peer, I doubt he still has his eyes set on 10 Downing Street).

Where Crane excels, however, is writing about landscapes that he clearly knows well from first-hand experience, and in vignettes of memoir that show his attachment to and love of the British landscape. If the whole book were imbued with this travel memoir feel – and stripped of factual errors and odd terminology – I’d give it an extra star.

As it stands, a patchy but readable and idiosyncratic walking companion: ***

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