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An unforgettable tale National GeographicIn The Places in Between Rory Stewart walked some of the most dangerous borderlands in the world Now he travels with his eighty nine year old father a comical wily courageous and infuriating former British intelligence officer along the border they call home On Stewart's four hundred mile walk across a magnificent natural landscape he sleeps on mountain ridges and in housing projects in hostels and farmhouse. I ve previously read both Stewart s The Places In Between and Prince of the Marshes I found both books to be illuminating and informational as well as engaging I felt that they really gave me an insight into the situations and cultures of Afghanistan and Ira respectively However I have to say that I don t feel that Stewart s change of focus in The Marches works as well Unfortunately it also lessened to a degree my personal respect for the authorThe first problem perhaps is that this is very clearly the product of I m setting out to write another book rather than These experiences and thoughts I ve had demand the writing of a book It is admitted several times in the text that the author is having trouble getting that book together and it shows The concept is Since Stewart s walks across the Middle East were so productive why not apply that modus operandi to his home and walk across the border of England and Scotland meeting people along the way and getting a sense of the people and cultures The initial idea is to walk along Hadrian s Wall with his father gleaning oral history from the older gentleman Unfortunately his dad was too elderly for the endeavor and passed away before the book was completed This means that the book ends up being sort of part memorial elegy to his dad part musing on the history of the Border counties and a large part complaining and disdainful jabs with a political edge regarding most of the people encountered along the journeyThe memorial part is nicely done but honestly probably not of that much interest to most people who did not know the man who does not come off as a particularly admirable person though the familial love clearly shines through I very much liked the idea of discovering hidden bits of history in each town and obscure archaeological site That aspect is the best of the book There are many tidbits of information here which for me made the piece worth readingHowever the third part the attitude was a huge disappointment to me In Stewart s previous writing he seemed very sympathetic yet fair mindedly critical regarding all the people he came across Here his attitude reflects that of the book project itself he had a preconceived notion of what he wanted to find and do and is resistant and frustrated when the reality doesn t match those preconceived notions Stewart has a ridiculously romanticized notion of rural British life and is practically angry when he discovers that rural English folks and Scots are well modern people concerned with their daily lives without secretly harboring old tales and traditions Those who do love the old tales and traditions repeatedly come under fire from him for being inauthentic and inaccurate this may be true but one would think we could appreciate the passion and love these people have regardless A bizarre and insistent love of the uaint picture postcard idea of British life repeatedly crops up along with an adulation of sheep farming Farms and agriculture are regarded as a pinnacle of civilization and the fight of Man against Nature in order to farm is granted a heroic stature Environmentalists effort to create nature preserves and let areas revert to a wild state repeatedly come under fire because this would be at the expense of FARMS Can t have that These bits and others show a shocking inability for the author to be willing to listen learn or admit that anyone might know about an issue than he does After all his ANCESTRAL ESTATE is here This attitude is disturbing considering that Stewart is currently Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs which shows why people keep insistently trying to explain things to him Overdevelopment of rural areas is certainly a valid concern but when a major part of the ending of the book is a plaintive lament that a housing development will leave the aforementioned ancestral estate with ONLY a SUARE MILE of property around it and he just won t be able to remain on the family lands because that will just be so dreadfully crowded he comes off as simply the worst sort of blindly selfishly entitled aristocrat genuinely out of touch with the concerns of the average citizen Which is genuinely disappointingMany thanks to HMH and NetGalley for the opportunity to read As always my opinions are solely my own

SUMMARY The Marches

The Marches

Ted Kingdom And as the end approaches the elder Stewart's stubborn charm transforms this chronicle of nations into a fierce exuberant encounter between a father and a son This is a profound reflection on family landscape and history by a powerful and original writerThe miracle of The Marches is not so much the treks Stewart describes pulling in all possible relevant history as the monument that emerges to his beloved father New York Times Book Revie. FROM MY BLOG Hadrian s Wall constructed by the Romans from AD 122 to about 128 crosses northern England from Newcastle through Carlisle to Bowness on the Solway Firth In 2010 I followed the wall its entire length on foot In 2011 Rory Stewart walked the same route together with his 89 year old father the father driving far than walking The following year he walked a rambling and much longer route from the Lake District to his father s home at the foot of the Highland Line in Scotland exploring the puzzling region between the Wall and the Scottish border the region called the marches in medieval times and which Stewart likes to call the MiddlelandMr Stewart is best known in America as the author of a best selling book about his 32 day walk across Afghanistan in 2002 The Places in Between A graduate of Eton and Oxford he has also served as a member of Britain s foreign service working on issues in Ira Montenegro and East Timor At the time of his Hadrian s Wall walk he had just been elected as a Conservative party Member of Parliament an office he continues to holdHe has now published his account of his 2011 and 2012 ramblings The Marches A Borderland Journey Between England and Scotland But The Marches is far than a travel document Stewart is a keen observer of flora fauna geology archeology history and pre history Simply reading his account of the Hadrian s Wall walk made me realize how much I had missed how unobservant I had been how superficial my understanding of the history of the area had beenMoreover Stewart combines his trekking observations with a tribute to his father a man who was an amazing example of a certain vigorous type of polymath and adventurer spawned by the British Empire and a deeply moving bittersweet testimonial to the unusually close relationship between father and son The book begins with Stewart s memories of his father as a child and ends with his father s death at 93 in 2015The book has a number of themes including the tribute to his father s remarkable life and they perhaps do not all mesh easily together in a single volume But they mesh as well in writing probably as they do in Stewart s own mindOne predominant theme intended or not is Stewart s love of Britain s lived in rural landscape The small village the stone fence enclosures the sheep and cattle the neighboring farms and farm houses where everyone knows everyone A certain coziness After the Norman conuest the Middleland area was cleared of habitation and reserved as royal forest for the king s hunting Stewart looks on forest as a form of desertModern agriculture tourism environmentalism and reforestation are causing a rapid re desertification in Stewart s eyes Small farms held by families for centuries are being combined into large mechanized agricultural businesses The government is reforesting other areas and environmentalists are undoing the farmers work of centuries returning the land to non invasive species Among the many undesirable effects as Stewart sees it is a significant depopulation fewer people now live in the Middleland than at any time since the middle ages and deserted farm houses aboundAnother theme is the uniue nature of the Middleland Stewart had set out on his Hadrian s Wall hike with some thought that the wall marked a separation between Scots and English peoples His findings confused him and he now feels that the people of the Middleland now defined as stretching from the Humber river to the Highland Line make up a distinct third culture one containing a number of sub cultures Stewart loves seeking out the etymology of place names and notes freuently which areas of the Middleland have names deriving from Northumbrian Germanic roots which from Norse roots and which from Cumbric Welsh roots He points out that what he now calls the Middleland was before and for some time after the Conuest shared by a number of kings representing different language and cultural regions Some of these distinctions still exist in local language and customsThe book has an underlying mood of melancholy Just as his father a fascinating accomplished and eccentric gentleman who still liked to dress up in Black Watch tartans until his death gradually weakens and fades throughout the book so the Middleland is losing its cultural distinctiveness Stewart repeatedly finds that residents today even in small isolated communities have little real organic connection to their history and traditions Local festivals tend to be promoted by community leaders for the enticement of tourists Matching the cultural loss the scenic values of the area are dying as land use changes force a return to a dreary pre agricultural uniformity Two states now predominated suburban and abandoned increasingly at the expense of the alternative a living countrysideStewart freuently contrasts this dying of customary Britain with the vibrant survival of local village customs he encountered during his walk through Afghanistan I easily understand how Stewart has chosen the Conservative party And yet his observations and conclusions are never doctrinaire never set in stone He continually observes facts that mitigate against his conclusions He continually modifies his conclusions The Marches is a travel book and an academic study never a political tractStewart sums up his father s life shortly after the old man s deathIt was an attitude to his life then and a resilience I was only half conscious of the many ways in which he had modestly concealed how he was better than me in singing in his languages in his sense of engineering or art and in his promptitude and energy in work In the end I felt his legacy was not some grand philosophical or political vision but playfulness and a delight in actionPlayful indeedI prefer commented my father when I shared this a Scot s verse written contemporaneously about Robert Bruce s battles with Edward I with him Edward s comment on toppling Balliol bon bosoigne fai y de merde se deliver isn t it great to push out a turdStewart s evaluation of his father feels entirely justified but his self deprecation not so much I suspect his father who continued to call his son darling right up to the end was immensely proud of his son s accomplishments and felt he was leaving his world in good handsI doubt if any American Congressman of either party displays the same sensitivity the same curiosity the same scholarship the same sense of history The same love of lengthy solitary walking Or indeed the same playfulness


S With every fresh encounter from an Afghanistan veteran based on Hadrian's Wall to a shepherd who still counts his flock in sixth century words Stewart uncovers about the forgotten peoples and languages of a vanished country now crushed between England and Scotland Stewart and his father are drawn into unsettling reflections on landscape their parallel careers in the bygone British Empire and Ira and the past present and uncertain future of the Uni. I was a Goodreads winner of this book I liked this book but didn t love it The history of Scotland and England was great I enjoyed reading the historical tidbits thrown in the book but this book was not about the history but about a walk along Hadrian s Wall The book is divided into 3 parts the walk with his 89 year old father which is very interesting and what a wonderful person to be with The second part is about a self journey which I found to be difficult to read and the third is about his father again Only a small part of this book is about the walk along the wall There are some parts about Ira Afghanistan and the Vietnam War and some political ideas that get bantered back and forth with his father that leave the book disjointed and I found myself agreeing with the father Overall it was an enjoyable read the book had some random thoughts that appeared throughout the book when it may have been better to stick with the journey itself

10 thoughts on “The Marches

  1. says:

    I've previously read both Stewart's The Places In Between and Prince of the Marshes I found both books to be illuminating and informational as well as engaging I felt that they really gave me an insight into the situations and cultures of Afg

  2. says:

    I think sometimes interweaving seemingly disparate threads can work well in non fiction unfortunately in this book I think

  3. says:

    Maybe this was too ambitious for me considering I don't read a lot of non fiction that isn't memoir or essays I thought this would be an interesting read about a man's life in conjunction with his findings on a long walk across the UK but it turned out to be a bit too tedious for me The information is dense and the narrative is uneventful so it was hard for me to feel motivated to read it It took me over a w

  4. says:

    We tend to think of the UK as one complete country but there are separate countries here that have their own distinct identity and outlook This loosely defined border between us and the Scottish has existed since Roman times Their farthest outpost it suffered from marauding Picts and Celts who took every opportunity to give the Romans a bl

  5. says:

    This is a fascinating and complicated book I picked it up because I'm currently fascinated by the borders I'm not

  6. says:

    I was a Goodreads winner of this book I liked this book but didn't love it The history of Scotland and England

  7. says:

    35 stars rounded up to 4I enjoyed reading The Marches Border Walks With My Father by Rory Stewart He’s been in the news here recently having stood for leadership of the Conservative Party and has now formally stood down from Parliament to run as an independent candidate for Mayor of LondonBut none of that has anything to do with why I wan

  8. says:

    FROM MY BLOG Hadrian's Wall constructed by the Romans from AD 122 to about 128 crosses northern England from Newcastle through Carlisle to Bowness on the Solway Firth In 2010 I followed the wall its entire length on foot In 2011 Rory Stewart walked the same route together with his 89 year old father the father driving far than walking The following year he walked a rambling and much longer route from the Lake District to his fa

  9. says:

    This was a very strange book I started off loving it and then it curdled on meThe trouble with a travel book is that you have to like the narrator I liked Rory Stewart's father Brian and this is largely a book about Brian I started off liking Rory too but the time I spent with him the the very high opinion he had of himself started to grate There are some wonderful bits in this book and I'm not at all sorry I've read it but the

  10. says:

    Rory Stewart walks the border between Scotland and England much of it along Hadrian's Wall This is a fairly long book that contains a lot of historical detail about the region The author's father figures in much of the book and is a very colorful character A survivor of D Day he served with Scottish brigades as well as having a car

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