In The Places in Between Rory Stewart walked through the most dangerous borderlands in the world. Read more...
In The Places in Between Rory Stewart walked through the most dangerous borderlandsin the world. Now he walks along the border he calls home--where political turmoil and vivid lives have played out for centuries across a magnificent natural landscape--to tell the story of the Marches.
In his thousand-mile journey, Stewart sleeps on mountain ridges and housing estates, in hostels and farmhouses. Following the lines of Neolithic standing stones, wading through floods and ruined fields, he walks Hadrian's Wall with soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan and visits the Buddhist monks who outnumber Christian monks in the Scottish countryside today. He melds the stories of the people he meets with the region's political and economic history, tracing the creation of Scotland from ancient tribes to the independence referendum. And he discovers another country buried in history, a vanished Middleland: the lost kingdom of Cumbria.
With every step, Stewart reveals the force of myths and traditions and the endurance of ties that are woven into the fabric of the land itself. A meditation on deep history, the pull of national identity, and home, The Marches is a transporting work from a powerful and original writer.
- ISBN-13: 9780544108882
- ISBN-10: 0544108884
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
- Publish Date: November 2016
- Page Count: 354
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.25 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-10-31
- Reviewer: Staff
The blurry geographic and cultural line between regions that have been (and might someday be) separate nations is explored in this ruminative travelogue. Stewart, an Englishman who grew up partly in Scotland and represents an English border district in Parliament, follows The Places In Between, his 2006 account of trekking across Afghanistan by foot, with this narrative of walking trips through English-Scottish border areas. Musing on the nature of frontiers, he ponders Hadrian's Wall marking Roman Britain off from the barbarian north; the Northumbrian lands where medieval Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse settlers uneasily coexisted; cross-border feuds that inspired Walter Scott's romances; and the separatist impulses surrounding the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. He also paints vivid portraits of the region's rich (though sodden) landscapes, and trenchantly critiques environment policies that try to return the human-scaled "living countryside" of 1,000-year-old grazing and farming terrain to wild bog and forest for the sake of biodiversity and carbon sinks. Stewart anchors his lively mix of history, travelogue, and reportage on local communities in a vibrant portrait of his father, who was both a tartan-wearing Scotsman and a thoroughly British soldier and diplomat. This is a subtle, clear-eyed, ardent case for the United Kingdom's future, one that recognizes cross-border divisions but deeply values ties that bind. (Nov.)
Identity and the land
BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, December 2016
If you’re thinking about building a very big wall, why not start by reading Rory Stewart’s captivating new book, The Marches: A Borderland Journey between England and Scotland. In its first section, Stewart describes walking—occasionally accompanied by his then 89-year-old father—along Hadrian’s Wall, which the Romans built in Northern England to keep out the barbarians. A student of the wall’s history, Stewart knows that it was for centuries garrisoned by a remarkably diverse set of soldiers and their families, including “Tigris barge-men from Iraq.” What, then, does it really mean to be a Briton, a Scot or an Englishman?
At the time of Stewart’s first walk along the thousand-mile length of the border, Scotland was about to hold a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom. A vote to leave would mean that Stewart, recently elected to Parliament from a district in Northern England, and his father, Brian, a proud Scottish Highlander who has spent his career working for the British Empire, would live in different nations.
The meaning and history of borders and national identities is something he ponders during a longer walk recounted in the second section of the book. Stewart, who wrote about his 2002 walk across Afghanistan in the brilliant bestseller The Places in Between, has complicated, sometimes contradictory experiences, all framed by encounters with people who live in the Marches. He longs for the bucolic landscapes described by Wordsworth and is disillusioned by the wilder landscapes that environmentalists have succeeded in restoring. Which of these is the real English landscape? It seems to depend on when you start your timeline.
Time is one of the chief concerns of the third and final section of the book, because at 93 years of age, Stewart’s father is dying. Stewart writes movingly and honestly about his father, who was 50 when Rory was born but possessed a remarkable vigor and a keen interest in his son that readers will feel throughout the narrative. It’s a fitting end to this powerful exploration of personal and national lineages and landscapes.