This is my type of book. In fact, you could say it is right up my street given the quote on page 121 which points out that the Boughton Estate now sells firewood back to the commoners at £95 per cubic metre when once it was a right to collect such wood. That’s the source of my firewood and there’s some left over from last winter in our shed. By the way, the price is now £120 per cubic metre.
Boughton House, one of the many homes of the UK’s largest private landowner, the Duke of Buccleugh, who also owns Langholm Moor at the moment, isn’t far from where I sit reading this excellent book, and the author, in the chapter called ‘Sheep’ also visited the nearby Lyveden New Bield and relates some interesting tales of its former owners long before the National Trust acquired it.
This is partly a book about trespass, and going where you aren’t supposed to go, but it’s also a book about thinking the things that we aren’t supposed to think. What is property? Where did those rights come from? Should we take them back?
And in these pages we visit the homes of some historical baddies and some present characters who are difficult to see as goodies. We visit the historical Downton Abbey and the very real Highclere House, Paul Dacre’s place and that of the Drax family in Dorset, Nicholas Hoogstraten’s Sussex home and even the grouse moor of Richard Bannister on Walshaw Moor, and, of course, Kinder Scout.
And the book touches on common land, Pheasant and Red Grouse shooting, slavery, Enclosure Acts, rural racism, migrants and refugees and a whole host of other issues bundled up with the countryside, land ownership and what we take for granted. And the occasional gamekeeper crops up too.
I loved the story from early nineteenth century USA about the man with the gun who literally shot the huntsmen’s fox, and the legal battle over whose fox it was anyway.
And the chapter about water, called Toad, has a perfectly weighted and gripping opening paragraph.
This is probably not a book for the stalwarts of the Moorland Association (several of whom get a mention), nor of the Country Land and Business Association, except that they’ll find it useful to see what the peasants are thinking and which way the wind is blowing. But I loved it – and so will many of the readers of this blog.
For one thing, it is beautifully written.
The Book of Trespass: crossing the lines that divide us by Nick Hayes is published by Bloomsbury on 20 August.