The Debatable Land

The Debatable Land

The Lost World Between Scotland and England

Book - 2018
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Explores the history of the Debatable Land, the former buffer between Scotland and England and once upon a time the bloodiest region in the country.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Edition: First American edition.
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780393285321
0393285324
Branch Call Number: 941.37 R532
Characteristics: x, 334 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 25 cm

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SPL_Shauna Mar 05, 2019

Full review available under Summary.

f
Frankster1
Aug 11, 2018

Fascinating book detailing the discovery of a lost country and culture that is neither England nor Scotland, but hiding in plain sight in the borderlands; a remnant culture that predates the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. Discovery of a British King Arthur--a warrior king who united the tribes of Caledonia and the borderlands and drove the Romans back south of Hadrian's Wall in 108 CE, much earlier than the proposed "King Arthur" of the Dark Ages. The true story of the reavers, and the border clans of Graham, Nixon, Armstrong, Johnstone, Eliot, and Forster (as in Billy, Richard and Lyndon among others). An interesting look at a little-known or understood part of Britain and Scotland.

i
INVS
Jul 31, 2018

I anxiously waited for this book & am reluctant to turn it in on time because it's packed with historic fact & a bit of trivia that not all might enjoy. Once I knew he was writing about an area I tried to cross - Carlisle to Durham or any point on the east coast rail line - I had to read this.

I love the delightfully named places like Skurrlywarble or learn what 'cock a snook' means. On page 89 regarding tracing boundaries....'so minutely recorded that they seem to rise from the darkness of Border history like gold leaf on a medieval parchment.' Beautiful visual use of language. Page 92 describing the #127 bus route scenery...the road descends into a ravine which is currently patrolled by an untethered Alsatian, a friend neither to walker or cyclist.' LOL till the tears ran because of the visual imagery.

The first time I learned what/who Reivers were was from a painting & postcard by Tom Scott 'A Reiver's Ride' at Hawick Museum, so this too drew me in. Now I have a bit of the family history for the inhabitants, familiar names to any American. Nixon, Armstrong, Elliott, Graham are a few.

Sometimes I skimmed, often I dug out the OS map or old timetables, journal notes & always a good map Great Britain. Yes, I enjoyed the read.

z
zipread
Jul 24, 2018

Up there, north of the Lake District, hard by the Scottish border and abutting the Solway Firth lies the most strange of country. Land in which no one lives; land in which livestock may graze by day but upon which they are not allowed to venture by night. This is the country where cross-border raids, up until very recently, have carried of cattle and, on occasion, people. All this in the best Celtic tradition.
Robb tells the story of this most peculiar land and he does so from its beginnings: from pre-Roman times. And he does it well. Reading this book, it might not be evident that one is getting a big dose of historical, cultural geography. It's a good trip to another time and place and it's written as only Robb knows how. Complete with bibliography, two indices, works cited, and a plethora of notes.

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SPL_Shauna Mar 05, 2019

Fancy yourself a history buff, where the British Isles are concerned? Well, so did I. Did you know that for a long period of history, from the late Iron Age until the early modern period, there was a buffer zone between England and Scotland that belonged to no nation? Me neither! Happily, there exists a book to rectify this gap in knowledge, and it is a lovely read.

Author Graham Robb becomes interested in the region, dubbed The Debatable Land, after moving to nearby Liddesdale. He and his wife buy an old home set near the river, down a long drive, far from town. As avid cyclists with no car, they quickly meet neighbours, curious about this new couple who’ve moved to a remote location to cycle in British weather, seemingly on purpose. In chatting with the locals, they discover much of the area formerly belonged to neither England, nor Scotland.

Upon a little research, they discover laws from the early modern period stating any man was free to steal and murder within the bounds of the area, without consequence. Locals told stories of bands of reavers tearing through the no-man’s land, and leaving nothing behind. Statues pay homage to the most daring thieves.

Robb, a renowned historian, found this too tempting to leave alone. In The Debatable Land, he traces the history of the region as far back as he can. The story is fascinating. While locals are familiar with the reaving history from Elizabethan times onward, it turns out the roots of the area are deep, reaching into the late Iron Age. Robb, who has done much work on Celtic civilizations, points out these kinds of buffer zones between nations are a common feature of Celtic cultures. He’s able to piece together how the area evolved from a tool for peace – an area for animals to pasture, where no one may erect permanent structures or sleep overnight – to an area exploited by national interests and left with no defenses.

The history itself is fascinating, but even more so are Robb’s techniques for piecing together his research into a coherent whole. He synthesizes new information on an ancient region, including piecing together bits of evidence that could support historical roots for some of Britain’s foundational myths. It’s not often readers of history get to pick up a book where spoilers may apply. But, Robb has made enough original connections on enough significant material that spoilers do apply here. So, I’ll end this review by saying that The Debatable Land was the most enjoyable and exciting book of history I’ve read in some time, and is highly recommended to any readers interested in British or Celtic history.

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