A bit of a complicated post today as I’ve been beavering away at the editing and transcription face all week and haven’t had time to update my reviews. So we have a review (and what lovely stamps the book I’m reviewing came with on its parcel, seen in the picture to the side!), some book confessions I promised last Sunday, and this nice Shiny news: my less-personal-more-professional review of “Viking Britain: A History” by Thomas Williams was published this week. Read the full review here with a different slant to the one on this blog.

Charles Thomas – “Exploration of a Drowned Landscape”

(23 August 2018)

I’d asked my Cornish friends what the best book on the history and archaeology of the Isles of Scilly was, as we’re going there later in the year. The reply from my friend Liz was this one, and I managed to pick up a reasonable copy on ABE Books (the ones on Amazon Marketplace were very dear, I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d got into trouble with book prices!).  Pleasingly, it has both a pasted in author signature and the name and address of a previous owner: more on that a little later.

It’s not the kind of book the casual reader might pick up, as it’s a serious tome on all sorts of aspects of the Isles of Scilly. It starts with a very scientific exploration of the probable cause of the “drowned” field and house wall features that become displayed when the tide is very low, below the normal sea level, and then goes on to explore why there are so many cairns and cists and how the settlement of the islands might have gone. I found this fascinating.

We get on to recorded history soon enough, and lots of meaty detail from rolls and records. Actually, here, having read the Vikings book helped, as I was more aware of the early rulers of the region. We then look at some details of different islands, for example the abandonment of Samson and the religious buildings. I loved hearing a few details about the pioneering Augustus Smith, who did the gardens at Tresco and apparently had some ostriches there at some point! There is a final chapter that I will admit didn’t interest me quite so much on Tennyson’s use of the Scillies and West Penwith for his Arthurian poems.

There are flashes of humour and polemic in the book – at one point, the author would have completed a wade on almost dry land because his trousers, wife and money had been left behind on Tresco, and he does rail against unstructured and unrecorded picking over of sites, justifiably.

The illustrations are great: proper hand-drawn maps and diagrams of pots and finds, and some great old photographs from a variety of sources. The comparisons of maps through time are particularly enjoyable.

And then at the end of the book, when it opens flat more easily, we find pencil annotations and some highlighter pen when he talks about the Woodcock family from St Martin – and the name with that address in the front of the book? A Mr Woodcock!

A good read and taught me a lot about the landscape and history that I hope I will put to good use. I’d like to know how things have developed since it was written in the 1980s.


Some confessions now …

So, thanks to my (lovely) friend Bernice, I appear to have signed up for an ultramarathon, to be run in July next year (it’s a safe and reasonably flat one, the Race to the Stones, the second day only, no camping and the shortest extra distance there really is, so 31 miles). What did I do upon signing up? Buy a book (of course). This is by Krissy Moehl, who is a renowned runner and rated by people like Scott Jurek. I like the fact that she has plain and simple rather than gung-ho advice, and a special chapter for women, too. It looks like it will be a good companion on the journey to those stones (not literally: I don’t think you’re expected to pack a book).

Nancy Marie Brown’s “The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman” was sitting in my shopping basket and it seemed a good overlap between going far and being interested in Viking stuff: I’ve read two of her other books and she’s a good and competent scholar.

Then the book my friend Katherine Findlay edited, “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward” was published: it’s the 1906 diary of a Devon man who became an Icelandic knight …

And finally, lovely Bookish Beck had decided not to keep her “lurid series” [my phrase] edition of Iris Murdoch’s “The Italian Girl” (read her review here) and decided to send it to me. How lovely! Thank you!!

Lucky me, right?!