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The Debatable Land


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Sunday Times top-ten bestselling author Graham Robb turns his attention on his homeland for the first time in this beautifully-written and ground-breaking new book.

Table of Contents

Section - i: List of Illustrations Section - ii: List of Figures Section - iii: A Guide to Pronunciation Unit - 1: PART ONE Chapter - 1: Hidden Places Chapter - 2: Outpost Chapter - 3: Panic Button Chapter - 4: The True and Ancient Border Chapter - 5: 'The Sewer of Abandoned Men' Chapter - 6: Mouldywarp Chapter - 7: Beachcombing Unit - 2: PART TWO Chapter - 8: Blind Roads Chapter - 9: Harrowed Chapter - 10: 'Loveable Custumis' Chapter - 11: Accelerated Transhumance Chapter - 12: Skurrlywarble Chapter - 13: Exploratores Chapter - 14: Windy Edge Chapter - 15: 'In Tymis Bigane' Unit - 3: PART THREE Chapter - 16: 'Stob and Staik' Chapter - 17: 'Rube, Burne, Spoyll, Slaye, Murder annd Destrewe' Chapter - 18: The Final Partition Chapter - 19: Hector of ye Harlawe Chapter - 20: Scrope Chapter - 21: Tarras Moss Chapter - 22: 'A Factious and Naughty People' Chapter - 23: Silence Unit - 4: PART FOUR Chapter - 24: Graticules Chapter - 25: The Kingdom of Selgovia Chapter - 26: 'Arthur' Chapter - 27: The Great Caledonian Invasion Chapter - 28: Polling Stations Chapter - 29: No Man's Land Chapter - 30: The River Section - iv: Appendix Section - v: Chronology Section - vi: Notes Section - vii: Works Cited Index - viii: General Index Index - ix: Geographical Index Acknowledgements - x: Acknowledgements

About the Author

Graham Robb was born in Manchester in 1958 and is a former fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. He has published widely on French literature and history. His 2007 book The Discovery of France won both the Duff Cooper and Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prizes. For Parisians (2010) the City of Paris awarded him the Grande Medaille de la Ville de Paris. He lives on the English-Scottish border.


Sorting out the fact from the fiction in this history is one of Robb's tasks. He tackles some serious misconceptions about the borderland . . . Robb intercuts the past and present, the intimate and the impersonal, to wonderful effect. Few authors write so well about things lost and neglected - or have such sharp ears and eyes for the natural world -- Ian Jack * Guardian *
Graham Robb is a remarkable writer . . . [his work] displays curiosity, intellectual vitality, wide-ranging sympathies, and a keen eye for unexpected detail. This new book will fascinate everyone with a knowledge of the geography, history, mythology and character of the Anglo-Scottish borderlands . . . No short review can do justice to the intelligence, charm, variety and sheer interest of this book. Read it, and you will be richly entertained and enlightened. * The Scotsman *
A detective outing on native soil. Armed with energy, humour, a poet's eye and a bicycle - all things his fans will be familiar with - Robb probes the received wisdoms of the past . . . His skill as a writer is to understand, without being fey, the fourth dimension: peeling back the modern landscape to find buried stories * The Times *
Scholarly nonfiction written with novelistic flair . . . The Debatable Land was neither English nor Scottish but a law unto itself, and it became notorious as the centre of reiver violence . . . But Robb, like a conjuror, gradually shows us the Debatable Land as something else . . . his exploration of its history is punctuated by some terrific nature writing * Observer *
It's a book worth reading . . . it contains several glories, much fine writing and the odd (very odd) wonder. -- Andrew Marr * Sunday Times *
This is a book written as much on the road as in the library . . . Robb's book is both a scholarly work of revisionism and an entertaining read . . . One of the pleasures of this book is to watch Robb, like a frontier dodging reiver, slip between past and present, between manuscript and moor, between battlefield site and the 127 bus -- Michael Kerr * Daily Telegraph *
Diverting asides animate Robb's revelatory account of this oft-overlooked and understudied part of the United Kingdom . . . The Debatable Land ends with a brace of discoveries. The first is a key to understanding Ptolemy's second-century map of Britain, hitherto thought inaccurate, which will surely be invaluable to future historians. The second is the earliest account told from a British point of view of a major battle in these islands. This is all fascinating. -- Alan Taylor * Literary Review *
Graham Robb, apart from being a distinguished historian, biographer and literary critic, is one of our most accomplished travel writers . . . he bicycles with the speed and ferocity of a Scottish reiver through these lost flatlands of history -- Hugh Thomson * Spectator *
An original and surprising book . . . he ranges with admirable ease over the centuries . . . Robb doesn't move far from his new home, yet this is a travel book, with a journey in time as well as space . . . the twists and turns of imagined and reimagined history brood over this richly wonderful book -- Allan Massie * The Oldie *
Travelogue, history and elucidation, this book is one of timely exploration. Going backwards, it goes forwards and there are many felicities along the way . . . The Debatable Land has excellent illustrations and indices. Elegant and with learning lightly worn, it is, in every respect, an exemplary and topical book, a perfect paradigm of its kind. -- Ross Leckie * Country Life *
Innovative methodology, rejection of mythology, precise expression . . . such a wonderful book -- Harry McGrath * Scottish Review of Books *
It is three-parts history (as you would expect of Robb's historical pedigree) and one-part nature writing. A vision of a marginal place (or at least marginal to the urban centres, not to itself of course) through time, written against a backdrop of both the 2014 independence referendum and the 2016 Brexit vote -- Teddy Jamieson * Herald (Scotland) *
Rising from this roving, poetic account, which dips in and out of memoir, anecdote and history, is a sense of loosely documented but fierce regional drama . . . Throughout, Robb unpicks ballads and legends - the stuff of old propaganda - with a warm but pleasingly sceptical approach. His search throws up surprises. Reading this book at times resembles a ramble through richly tangled terrain with a guide who is joyously diverted by discovery . . . Its paths deserve to be retaken slowly, chapter by chapter - but the walk is always worthwhile. -- Jenny McCartney * Mail on Sunday *
Robb's forays through the region, by bike and in archives, is timely, revisionist and entertaining * Daily Telegraph, Summer Reading 2018 *
[An] entertaining work of geographical sleuthing . . . Drawing on archeological evidence, archival sources, and local gossip, [Robb] uncovers a lost world, complete with laws, customs, clans, and hierarchies. Surprises abound, including the discovery that this may well be "the oldest detectable territorial division in Great Britain," with roots in pre-Roman times. * New Yorker *
Robb uses his vast knowledge of Celtic history, languages, and geography to create a fascinating book of history and adventure. Regarding the strange story of what is called the "Debatable Land," the author turns to writings both ancient and modern as he applies archaeological methods to history . . . Readers will have fun following along with Robb's intriguing historical journey of discovery through this magical realm . . . An imagination-stimulating work in which the past seems "to dissolve and reshape itself." * Kirkus Reviews (starred review) *

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