Coasting and On Foot, by Sue Clifford and Angela King
160 pages, hardback. Published by Saltyard Books on 19 June.
Review By Neil Sentance
Common Ground, the arts and environment charity founded in 1983 by Sue Clifford, Angela King and the late Roger Deakin, must have a special place in the hearts of all of us who care about the interweaving of the natural world and human culture. A long-time champion of native distinctiveness and the notion of place-attachment, Common Ground have captured the imagination with projects like Apple Day, New Milestones and Parish Maps and promoted interest in local histories, nature, vernacular architecture, folklore and landscape. Their philosophy has been underpinned by a sense of being rather contra mundum, opposing the forces of homogenization and the agents of corporate standardization, clone towns and gimcrack developments, and the loss of diversity and the authenticity that gives a place its genius loci, its spirit of place.
All this culminated in the acclaimed book, a rich and encyclopaedic manifesto, England in Particular, first published in 2006, a beautifully crafted salute to the nation’s individuality, produced with warmth and wit alongside fine illustrations from the likes of masters such as David Gentleman, Clifford Harper and David Nash. This book celebrates myriad aspects of our local surroundings such as crinkle crankle walls, holloways, old orchards, ancient county boundaries and regional dialects, and gives fascinating asides on how country blacksmiths often transfigured into rural motor garages, the origins of field names, or the melancholy histories of lighthouses or airfields. To spend time with this book is truly a rare and fine thing.
And so the news that Sue Clifford and Angela King in conjunction with Saltyard Books are producing a new series of short thematic pocket-size books teased from the threads of the compendious England in Particular is very welcome. There is the fleeting thought that this is a standard publishers’ ruse of giving us old wine in new bottles. But what wine; and what bottles! The spirit of the original book lives on in the compact sturdy design and the wealth of idiosyncratic enjoyment to be had within. In the edition Coasting, immerse yourself in essays on kippers, chines, saltmarshes, lidos and basking sharks. On Foot leads us down delightful paths along footbridges, to rookeries, stepping-stones and drove roads. There is nothing affected or idealized about the entries here, written incisively as split timber – this is the real stuff of these islands, and shared with all that runs in the becks, roddons, runnels and eaus of Caught by the River.
Common Ground itself is now in a process of evolution as Sue Clifford and Angela King have handed over its archives to Exeter University and the charity is now to be steered by the good people behind Little Toller Books in Dorset. Long may you run.