Great British Journeys.
Great British Journeys by Nicholas Crane Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hb, pp256, 20 [pounds sterling]
In recreating some Great British Journeys for the BBC, Nicholas Crane follows an eclectic bunch of people who had 'revealed Britain as it had not been seen before'. Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald the Welshman) was on a recruitment drive for 'a crazed adventure in the Middle East', while John Leland was driven mad by his 'topographical audit'--a frantic attempt to catalogue the great Tudor libraries that became a mission to map the kingdom itself. 'He must have felt that he was cantering through a nightmare,' Crane writes.
Crane's own nightmare comes when he almost drowns reliving Celia Fiennes' horseback crossing of the Esk, but he remains objective enough to note that 'water at its most lucid and amusing would always lift her spirits'. She even found Harrogate's spa, 'furr'd with White Scumm', to be quite a treat.
Defoe and Cobbett are, naturally, celebrated here, along with 'token petrolhead' HV Morton, whose youthful cycling around the shady lanes of pre-First World War Warwickshire awoke in him an urge 'to search for the essence of Englandt He undertook much of this in Maud, a Bullnose Morris--the car was his key to unlocking the national identity. His own, however, he kept under wraps; his writing disguised his philandering nature and fascist sympathies.
Conversely, Crane, in red cagoule and with umbrella to hand, is an engaging companion, whether on horseback, bike, foot, boat or car, and writes entertainingly throughout.