Book review: On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester

I spotted On Gallows Down: Place, Protest and Belonging by Nicola Chester in the local library on a day when I already had too much to carry. Fortunately, it was still there the following week; I had forgotten to reserve it.

Cover of On Gallows Down

Although I follow Nicola Chester on Twitter, I had not appreciated where in the country (of England) Gallows Down is. It is close to the area made famous by Richard Adams’ book Watership Down, which I read in 1974 about two years after it was published. Watership Down is one of the books Nicola Chester mentions in On Gallows Down. One of my favourite children’s books is also mentioned – The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I have to admit that I haven’t read all the books or poems she mentions. I didn’t enjoy one or two of the others – notably Tess of the D’Urbevilles. I find Thomas Hardy’s novels depressing, although I have enjoyed some of his poems.

On Gallows Down is a prize-winning book by an author, who combines a love and knowledge of the countryside with a love of and qualifications in the English Language. Other writers with similar preferences include Robert Macfarlane* (who endorsed this book) and Jennifer Ackermann.

Like many of my favourite books On Gallows Down includes a sketch-map. This is very helpful in locating the places mentioned. There is historical background to many events I have been vaguely aware of from the news. Greenham Common has an unusual history described by Nicola Chester, who was an eyewitness to many events around the area.

The natural world is the focus with the author’s experience and observation of it as a real countrywoman. I read it from cover to cover in a few days, sharing her anguish as trees were felled in instances where this did not seem necessary.

Nicola Chester’s own story is threaded through the landscape of this book. It is a fascinating read. I found it more relatable than many nature books I have read, probably because the author writes from the perspective of a mother. The writing is almost poetic in places.

There is so much information in it that I found a single reading was insufficient to take in everything in this book.

Reading it for the second time I listed poems/poets to read.

On Gallows Down was the winner of the Richard Jefferies Award 2021 for Nature Writing and Highly commended for the James Cropper Wainwright Prize 2022.

For a list of other books about nature and climate change, please visit my page, where there are links to reviews I have written.

*Links to reviews of books by Robert Macfarlane, which I have read, appear on the page of nature and climate change books.


Book review: Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien

In December my attention was drawn to a book by JRR Tolkien, which I had not previously read. I mentioned it to hubby and was both surprised and delighted on Christmas Day to open a package containing a hardback copy.

Photo of Letters from Father Christmas with a picture of a person clothed in red carrying a strangely shaped parcel across a snowy landscape.

Letters from Father Christmas is a book intended for children. JRR Tolkien wrote illustrated letters to each of his four children while they were young in the years from 1920 to 1943. The letters transcribed in the book are also shown as illustrations of Father Christmas’s handwriting and pictures of his home and adventures at the North Pole.

This edition published in 2012 was edited by Baillie Tolkien (a daughter-in-law of JRR Tolkien). It was first published in 1976. There have been other revisions.

The same imagination that created The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings lovingly invented an imaginary world for his own children to enjoy. There is humour and excitement in these letters, which surely appeal to readers of all ages.

Letters from Father Christmas is also available as a paperback, CD-audio and in a deluxe edition.

Three more books I read in November 2020

The books reviewed here are all fiction. One is a children’s book.

Book cover The Tiger and the RubyThe Tiger and the Ruby by Kief Hillsbery is a book from BorrowBox. The tagline is A journey to the other side of British India. It is historical fiction set mainly in India in the time of the East India Company. There is a mystery, which a relative of the main character sets out to solve a long time afterwards. I found the book interesting, but there were many snippets of history, which I did not find memorable. I found it hard to remember that it was a work of fiction. It was interesting and well-written. The story jumped from the time of the mystery to the time of the narrator, who was of a later generation.


Dust coverThe Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham is one of the books I recently inherited. I had read it many years ago, but couldn’t remember anything about it until the very end. In the last few pages I realised that I had read it before. It has similarities to The Franchise Affair with its background in post-WWII Britain. The variety of characters and the effect of decisions made by some of them on the lives of others make a good novel. I didn’t understand all the language of the criminals apart from ‘slop’ being back-slang for police. The changes in everyday English from the 1950s to the present day are very noticeable.

The edition I read was from a book club – World Books. Its publications had a standard appearance, demonstrated in the photos. The second photo shows how a dust cover protects a book.
Spine of book with inside of dust cover

Book cover The Girl who saved ChristmasThe Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig is the second in a series, but stands alone. I had not read any of Matt Haig’s children’s books before. It is a mixture of fantasy and historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I found on BorrowBox.