Author: Graham Robb

I first became aware of this area when driving west out of Kielder Forest along the B6357.  The area feels remote, transitional and is sparsely populated. Whether the land belonged to England, Scotland of the Reivers (who at times tried to occupy it), the meaning of ‘Debatable’ in this context has its origins in the old English word ‘battable’ which describes a pastureland for the fattening of cattle.

The book covers many aspects of the history of the area.  However, it also resonates with more recent history around the Scottish independence and Brexit referendums.  The Debatable Land is an area of some 50 square miles reaching down to the Solway.

The author sets off on a number of cycling expeditions around the area.  A theme runs through the book that historically, Borderers, whether on the Scottish or English (Cumbrian) side have more in common than they have differences.  Interestingly, the author thinks that the introduction of compulsory education resulted in the children in Bewcastle School sounding English and those just 6 miles away in Newcastleton sounding Scottish.

While the book borders on an academic text, the mix of subjects and the reference and relevance to the present day make it an excellent read.  The area was little known to me, so I took the unusual step of reading the book alongside the relevant Ordnance Survey map of the area which increased my enjoyment of the book.

Reviewed by: Andrew Tait 

Publisher: Picador, ISBN: 978-1509804689

Paperback - £8.79