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Culture, Literature

OX Reads: Best of British

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The wonderful Kim Harvey, owner of The Mad Hatter Bookshop in Burford and Creative Director of The Burford Literary Festival shares her reading suggestions on this month’s theme.

The Madhatter Bookshop sits on Burford High Street. Burford has a wonderful community but also plays host to visitors from across the world and hence I get told, nearly everyday, how beautiful Britain truly is, and I find myself nodding and smiling. It is so easy to forget the joys of our landscape from the multi-faceted buildings that line Burford High Street to the country’s endless beaches and majestic mountains, so as we celebrate the best of British here are a few books to remind us just how beautiful Britain is.

Wilding by Isabella Tree

Like English Cheddar and pickled onions, or Welsh Lamb and mint sauce this book offers the perfect paring of Isabella Tree and Angela Harding. I know rewilding has become a buzz-word and as such can be a little over-used and under-appreciated but this beautiful gift edition of the story of Knepp, an estate in West Sussex, and how Isabella connected its land back to the original inhabitants will make you want to slow down, observe the natural world around you and feel Mother Nature herself vibrate through every breath. Angela Harding’s illustrations capture the story perfectly and will make you want to keep this book on your coffee table to admire again and again and again.

A Farmers Wife by Helen Reebanks

I read this book in its proof stages, again in hardback, and have just read it once again in paperback as it will be our new Bookshop Book Club read. This book is balm for the soul. It is an honest account, not only of family life on a Lakeland fell farm, but the raw truths about motherhood, keeping a home and raising a family. Although Helen has, what appears to be the life she wants, this book is in no way smug or preachy, it may challenge the way you see British farming, above all it is enchanting funny and fearless.

The Soaring Life of The Lark by John Lewis -Stempel

Nothing says Spring like the Skylark. Poets, writers and composers – think Percey Shelley and Ralph Vaughan Williams – have tried to capture their exquisite song and its representation of the quintessential British Springtime. The Soaring life of the Lark explores the music and poetry; the breath-taking heights, and the struggle to survive for one of Britain's most iconic songbirds by one of the finest nature writers of his time.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

The Caingorms in majestic Scotland is part of the largest National Park in the United Kingdom and includes the two highest mountains: Ben Nevis and Ben Macdui. The Living Mountain will take you on a journey through rock and river, wildlife and communities of this breath-taking landscape. Anna (Nan) Shepherd was born in 1893 and died in 1981. Her manuscript was not published for more than 30 years. Whether you have visited this stunning landscape, are planning a visit, or simply like to travel in the comfort of your own home, I urge you to read this award-winning poetic prose.

All The Wide Border by Mike Parker

Wales holds a special place in my heart, not only because it holds special childhood holiday memories, but I live with a Welshman and together we have trekked the Elan Valley, walked the rivers and eaten the best cheese sandwiches next to some of the prettiest waterfalls – plus, living in the shire means Wales makes a great destination for a day trip. All The Wide Border by Mike Parker explores a little over 100 miles of much disputed borderlands between England and Wales. There is much to explore, including railways, pathways and of course Offa’s Dyke, albeit a shadow of its original form – but who is being divided from whom? Join Parker on a series of hikes from the Cathedral city of Chester in the North to Monmouth in the South. Whichever side you take on the history of battles and skirmishes, you cannot fail to awe at the beauty of Wales, its beauty and its passion.

If you are in the midst of wondering where to holiday in 2024 I guarantee you will never be disappointed by the stunning landscape that is the United Kingdom.

You can find all these books at The Madhatter Bookshop, Burford or order from our online shop at uk.bookshop.org/shop/madhatterbookshop

madhatterbookshop.co.uk / burfordlitfest.co.uk

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