Sunday book review – On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester

This book, subtitled a memoir, is just that. It’s a series of remembrances of events, mostly to do with nature, place, and protest. I loved it. The ‘place’ is that area which includes the sites of the Greenham Common protest and the Newbury bypass protest. The author was involved in both of these, and the firsthand accounts of those events, and their locations, are very strongly told. This is where Nicola Chester has lived for much of her life and so she knows it very well, from Watership Down to the Kennet and Avon Canal and she knows the history of the place from battles fought to books written. There is a strong feeling of belonging to this place throughout the book.

I slightly envied that. As a Bristolian who left Bristol to go to university and has never returned to the city, or its environs, to live, I do feel, when I visit, that it is home. And my memories of it are of wildlife seen and places explored with friends and relatives. But I have lived the last 45 years or so in Cambridge, and two separate parts of Northamptonshire, as well as stays in Oxford, Aberdeen and abroad. And my work has taken me very regularly to offices in Sandy and meetings in London and many other places so I’ve not really been embedded in a place for a long time, and I slightly envy those who have and admire those, like in this book, who can put that feeling across so well.

I like the historical and literary references, I like the political stance of the author, I like the descriptions and observations of wildlife and I greatly admire the writing. This book will displace a current occupant of my shortlist of books of the year as it made a very strong impression on me. I believe that many readers of this blog will also be touched by these tales, and the skilful way in which they are told.

I like the cover although I’m not sure that it tells me what to expect from the book – but I like it; 7/10.

On Gallows Down: place, protest and defiance by Nicola Chester is published by Chelsea Green