A Worthy Addition

… to the nature shelf, is Rob Cowen’s Common Ground.

Cowen takes us to the places we wandered freely as kids.  We are on the edge of town, where there are burns and railways, and woodlands.  But in Cowen’s company we see and we hear all those things we overlooked way back then when the football or the rope swing or the wandering were perhaps more important.

On the edge of Harrogate Cowen takes us on his wanders, at dusk and at dawn, and even in the dark hours in between, across his patch.  And through his eyes and ears we find what fills those little acres wherever in the country we may be.


The sight of a fox takes him off and suddenly we are the fox, on his wanders – mind you those of us who keep chickens may be a little short on the sympathy side, especially at the faux pas when the fox’s paws are tangled in wire, trapped.  But it’s a terrific start to all that is to follow.

The owl is in Cowen’s woods, and the mayflies and butterflies.  And much more.  The hare takes us away elsewhere, to centuries of myth and magic, and to twitching ears.

These are the sort of lands on the edge of towns where you may expect to find shopping trolleys in the river, overgrown, neglected.  We meet young couples seeking solitude; and Lauren crops up again, later in the tale; heart-warmingly later.

The overgrown bed of the long-disused railway is fertile ground, as the wildlife returns, closing in, sheltering.  We follow the progress of a conservation group, decades earlier, and then find Sustrans turning it all into a cycle path for the modern day, the viaduct to be made safe again too.  Now I’m all in favour of cycle paths and can think of no better use of old railways, other than putting the rails and the trains back on them, and all of a sudden I’m back on the path to Abermaw, watching for otters and listening to birdsong.

Rob Cowen is an amiable and able guide to his patch, with delightful phrases as he colours the woods and plays the songs.  There are occasions when we digress, a bit too deeply for me, into proposals for badger culls or the history of one aspect or another.  But running through it all is the personal journey, which takes us to the delightful end, or is it the beginning…

A scrap of land, forensic care, says Michael Palin on the cover; makes us think again of what we know of our world; heartfelt, deep, beautiful and moving – just some of the tributes on the back cover.  It’s all of them and more.


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