Book Review: Two Degrees West by Nicholas Crane

At work we always have a secret Santa, and last Christmas I was given this particular book. Whoever gave it to me certainly knows the kind of books I like to read. It might have been picked up in a charity shop, book sellers on Amazon or even had it on their won shelf and decided to re-gift it. It doesn’t really matter to me as the book was a great read.

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I remember reading a few long articles by Nicholas Crane and his brother in cycling magazines back in the 80s and early 90s, where they had gone on amazing adventures. One of them saw the brothers cycle to the place on the planet furthest away from any sea, smack in the middle of the Gobi Desert.

Two Degrees West was first published in 1999, and the book has aged well, although having to use a phone box might confuse younger readers. No mobile phones back then. The idea behind the book was for Nicholas to walk the length of England along the 2 degree longitude, from Berwick to Poole. He allows himself a 2km window, although this does involve wading rivers, catching a boat across a reservoir and an escorted march across army land.

Of course, as with most traveling books it’s all about the people he meets along the way. Nicholas is a garrulous person, chatting with almost everyone. One interesting theme through the book is the lack of shops in many of the smaller villages, with free buses available to large supermarkets, along with the soon to be extinct village pub and post office.

The book was also written before open access land became a thing in England, and because of this Nicholas has to trespass on more than a few occasions. Many of the moors that he crosses are set aside for grouse shooting. He doesn’t state if he is for or against, leaving it up to the reader. There are large tracts of land set aside for grouse shooting near to Lancaster, which I would love to be able to walk or run with more freedom. The game keepers in the book like to say that without the shooting the numbers of grouse would become far too large. This is a little disingenuous, as the land has been cultivated to create the perfect habitat for grouse. If the heather was allow to grow and trees were planted then there wouldn’t be any need to shoot grouse. Another argument is that the shooters bring money and jobs into the local towns and villages. The cost of a days shooting is well over £1,000, and most of that goes to the landowner, although pubs and B & Bs do benefit. My own view is that there the land needs to be more natural with more trees, and if this isn’t too the liking of grouse, then so be it.

Last weekend me and my lovely wife went for a run and came across a closed footpath (read about it here), and in this book Nicholas also has this problem, along with Bulls. It often feels like some landowners really don’t want people walking across their land, eve when it is a Public Right Of Way. This was written about extensively in Mike Parker’s recent book (read about it here). If you do come across a blocked footpath, contact your local PROW officer, they are always very helpful.

Back to the book, and his route took him through many places that I knew well, or that I’ve cycled through. It didn’t just take him over moors, he also walked through the middle of the Black Country, which probably isn’t on too many long distance footpaths.

A very satisfying book, and to whoever my secret Santa was, I thank you.

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