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A Corpse Road in Swaledale

March 27, 2015

There was a thick mist as we made out way over from Kirkby Stephen to Keld in Swaledale, but by the time we reached the tiny village, which is on both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast Path, it had melted away, leaving clear views down the dale and over the lonely and seemingly endless stretches of moorland.

Keld, (c) John Bainbridge 2015

Keld, (c) John Bainbridge 2015

We had come to walk part of the corpse road, along which the dead of Keld were carried the twelve miles to the parish church of Grinton, to be buried. And a wild journey it must have been in bad weather, for the stretch that we walked, between Keld and Muker is both high and exposed.

Keld itself feels like the village on the edge of the world. As Wainwright says in his Coast to Coast Guide “a sundial records the hours, but time is measured in centuries in Keld.” On the lane out of the village is the war memorial, commemorating the four men of the district who died in the Great War. But were they to come back they would hardly believe they had been away at all, so unchanged in this village.

The Corpse Road on Kisdon Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2015

The Corpse Road on Kisdon Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2015

The corpse road is a well-defined track climbing the western side of Kisdon Hill, offering grand views over this quiet and unspoilt land. Now as you’ll know from previous blogs, I have a great interest in corpse roads. But this seems a particularly unspoiled example. If you met a corpse-carrying party who’ve wandered in from the Middle Ages you wouldn’t feel terribly surprised.

But this day we saw no ghosts. Just a solitary shepherd feeding his sheep and a great many lapwings.

The path goes steeply downhill to the little village of Muker (pronounced Moo-Ker). A tad bigger than Keld, but not much bigger. The church is delightful in its simplicity. Built in the 1580s – one of the few in England dating from the reign of Elizabeth I – and thus making much of the corpse road redundant, offering a decent burial ground for the people at the head of Swaledale. We liked the stained glass, showing Christ as a shepherd and the appropriate 23 sheep – all of the Swaledale Breed.

Muker from the Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2015

Muker from the Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2015

On then to the River Swale itself. Here there are lots of signs of lead-mining, though nature has healed the scars. The miners, who would work a long day at the mining and then farm as well, used the system of mining known as hushing. Holding back water in huge dams on the hill-tops. Then releasing it in one mighty surge to wash away the topsoil, making the ore more visible.

There are the ruins of a smelting mill with some delightful waterfalls at Swinner Gill, with fine views back over Kisdon Hill. Then past Crackpot Hall, now a ruin, abandoned due to subsidence in 1953.

The name Keld comes from the old Norse word for water, and there’s certainly a lot of it about. There are a great many waterfalls on the Swale itself and its tributary becks. Just before you hit Keld again are a beautiful series of falls known as East Gill Force – a lovely spot to linger.

East Gill Force (c) John Bainbridge 2015

East Gill Force (c) John Bainbridge 2015

If you fancy a walk that’s lost in time with a great deal of history, then this is the walk for you.

I hope to feature more about the corpse road in a future blog.

Walking the Balmoral Kill Country

March 26, 2015

I always like to root my plots and characters in a real landscape whenever that is possible. I might alter it, fictionalise it, or just change the odd feature – but I like to start with a reality. And at some point in my fiction I like to use an actual place I know, walk around it and imagine my characters playing out their adventures upon it.

Loch Muick (c) John Bainbridge 2015

I always knew, right from the beginning, that my Victorian thriller The Shadow of William Quest would come to a dramatic conclusion on Holkham Beach in Norfolk. And I knew that the final duel between my hero and villain in Balmoral Kill would have to be in some remote spot in the Cairngorms, though within easy reach of the royal residence of Balmoral Castle.

But I wasn’t sure where.

In all my Scottish stravaiging I had never been to Loch Muick (pronounced without the u), though I had read about it in my numerous Scottish books and looked at it on the map. It seemed an ideal location for the conclusion of a thriller.

Glas-Allt-Shiel House (c) John Bainbridge 2015

So last summer, when we were staying in Ballater, we walked up to take a look, circling the loch and examining the wild mountains and tumbling rivers round about. Plotting a gunfight (even a fictional one) takes some care. I wanted it to be as probable and realistic as possible. This is, after all, a book about experienced assassins. I wanted the line of sight of every rifle to be exact.

We also had to check out the hills around. Both my hero and villain are great walkers and “walk-in” to places where they expect to see some action

And a beautiful wild place Loch Muick is. It was a favourite picnicking place of Queen Victoria, who used to linger for days on end at the lonely house of Glas-Allt-Shiel, in mourning for her beloved Prince Albert. Today’s royal family picnic there even now. The house is as I describe it in the book, as is the surrounding scenery. Believe me, I checked out those sightlines. Every shot described in the book could be taken in reality. Even now when I think of that loch and the Corrie Chash above it, I think of my characters being there. Sometimes they are all very real to me.

Loch Muick looking up towards where Balmoral Kill comes to its conclusion. (c) John Bainbridge 2015

We also revisited Balmoral Castle (actually they only let you into the ballroom!), strolled through its grounds and examined the countryside round about. I was able to work out the exact routes taken by all of the characters who found themselves on the shores of Loch Muick on a late summer day in 1937.

Other areas of Scotland feature in the book too. I partly fictionalised the places I used in the Scottish Borders, though those scenes are based on the many walks I’ve done around Peebles, the Broughton Heights and Manorwater. In one flashback scene in the Highlands I have a character journey from Taynuilt and out on to the mighty twin peaks of Ben Cruachan, and then into the glens beyond, to kill a man in Glen Noe. Some years ago I did a lot of walking in that area and had considerable pleasure in reliving my journeys as I penned those scenes.

Balmoral Castle (c) 2015 John Bainbridge

The book begins in London and journeys into the East End. I’ve walked the streets and alleys of Whitechapel, Stepney and Limehouse by day and night over the years. Balmoral Kill is set in 1937, so there has been a great deal of change in nearly eighty years. The East End was very badly bombed in the War and thoughtless planners have destroyed a lot more. But enough remains to give you the picture. Once more, I could take you in the steps of my characters through every inch of the places mentioned.

Very often going to these locations inspires changes to the writing. Balmoral Kill was half-written by the time we explored Loch Muick. The real-life topography of the place inspired me to make several changes to the novel’s conclusion.

And now I’m writing an historical novel set in the 1190s. The landscape where it is set has changed very considerably in the centuries since. So more imagination is needed, though I still try to root my scenes in reality.

As a walker as well as a writer I find going on research trips is the best way to conjure up locations with the written word.

If you haven’t yet read Balmoral Kill please do give it a try. It’s out now in paperback as well as in eBook form on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. I’d be pleased to know what you think of it. And if you ever do get the chance do take the journey from Ballater up to Loch Muick. It’s well worth while.

Click on the link below to read Balmoral Kill.

Balmoral Kill: A Sean Miller Adventure

Balmoral Kill: A Sean Miller Adventure

Buy from Amazon


Into the Woods

March 25, 2015

Our second piece this week by guest blogger Basak Tunulku…

Into the Woods
I dedicate this piece to the Lake District and Cumbria

I do not know when I first experienced the woods. I remember that each summer when I travelled with my family to our summer resort, I was excited to get away from Istanbul and visit a beautiful place near the Northern Aegean Sea. Of course, this feeling was also a reflection of my quest for adventure, fed by children’s novels by Jules Verne and Enid Blyton; an adventurous voyage full of secrets to be discovered. And of course, the Northern Aegean coast is still beautiful after all these years, despite continuous efforts by governments to transform it full of summer resorts next to each other.

I’ve always admired the changing textures of Nature, between the Marmara Region – a combination of dark green woods with large metropolises – and the Aegean Region, a combination of yellowish green Mediterranean shrubs with smaller cities. I liked this contrast between the greens and the cookies made by my mom that we ate during travels. Maybe because of that, I still like cookies and pastries! You could never find the legendary English oak trees across the Aegean seaside, but there was another tree, for which legends were written: the olive tree, the symbol of peace and health that was in front of our eyes for thousands of acres during our travels. Between olive trees, there were only small plants with thorns and no flowers, usually withering because of the heat. Our summer resort was our only chance to become familiar with the ‘natural’, either by walking on the beach to collect shells, or diving in the sea to see its depths (although I was diving next to my family on the beach, this was a real challenge for me).

Sometimes we would climb a hill with a group of people usually led by a senior, like my father, who took us to look around at animals, plants and ruins. I collected small pieces of nature and took them home with me, such as seeds, shells and nice-looking ‘sacred’ stones. However, when I got older and continued my education in Istanbul, I could not find the chance to spend all my summers in a place like that. Because I was staying in Istanbul and taking summer classes, over time, I felt totally detached from woods. My life in the city was full of exams and seeing friends. I was also distracted by the desire to consume spaces such as a newly opened cafe or a shop to be discovered in the old and popular neighbourhoods of Istanbul.

Things changed for me when I came to England in 2004 for my studies at Lancaster University. Although for most students, Lancaster had never been an attractive town, with lots of shops, pubs, bars and night clubs, it opened up a new door to me which had been locked during my life in greedy and ugly Istanbul, full of individualistic people without love or respect for each other. Since Lancaster, a town with a good combo of “green, old and small” which still kept some of the rural features that shaped the English countryside, I was totally enveloped in it from my first day there. The contrast on the campus astonished me: when I entered it, passing by a steep road with trees on both sides and a pond where ducks and geese were swimming, with the fells visible at a distance under a clear sky, I thought I had come to a paradise. However, then I saw the buildings of the campus – constructed during the 1960s.

Later, I learnt the names of the fells, when I started to join daily trips organised by the university. They belonged to the legendary Lake District, with which I fell in love at first sight. And, very ironically, there is no place in the world which makes me as happy and sad at the same time as the Lake District and Ida Mountains, the mountain range near our summer resort, which I try to visit each year if I can find time. There is nothing I would add to such a place – it is, in my opinion, beauty actualised in place, and it inspired poets and painters since the Romantic Era. The Lake District or Cumbria, more than any other place is, in my opinion, the best location to experience England, due to its tremendous variety and its firm grip on its rural identity, despite the impact of tourism during the last few decades. It is both English and Celtic, with legends of stone circles and castles, thought to be of King Arthur and his father, Pendragon and names which reflect English and Celtic cultures. It is on the borderline between England and Scotland, shaped by wars and disputes between the two sides. It is both made by man and nature over thousands of years, resulting in a ‘beauty’ natural and artificial at the same time. It is both dependent on farming, as it has been for thousands of years, and on tourism, carrying thousands of white collars to experience its beauty and tradition. The feeling it arouses in me is a mixture of everything: it gives me the pleasure of being lonely and free. At the same time it brings sadness, especially when my trip ends and I know that I should go back. As one of my relatives said, places like the Lake District are not as massive as the USA or Canada, but when you go there you can see everything.

Like a theatre scene, the Lake District has more than just one layer, even if lakes are called “waters” and mountains are called “fells”. At first, you can see a small lake and a river which intermingle, and then behind them, there is a wooded area with cottages and cottonball-like sheep. Behind this lie fells not nearly as high as real mountains, but which still allow you to feel scale and grandeur.
The Lake District reminds me of my childhood, an unfulfilled and never-ending quest of going, leaving and returning again and again to discover the world and me, alone in a dark wood covered with huge trees. There the only voices I can hear, instead of through an I-Phone, are those of birds singing and of trees dancing in the breeze, as if talking to each other. I always tell myself to accept the beauty of the Lakes, either by losing my horizon in a small forest near Keswick or a small tarn in Great Langdale. When I was travelling within the Lake District, I always preferred the number 555 bus, which connects Lancaster and Keswick across a beautiful route. Sometimes I travelled in the evenings, which prevented me from seeing the beauty of the area and knowing my exact location. However, this did not prevent me from ‘seeing’ through the dark, since I could feel where I was. England gave me back the pleasure to be lost in the countryside, manmade or natural, with the feelings of freedom, admiration of beauty and quest for the self and adventure. However, I know that whether natural or manmade, when I go there to get away from mundane problems, I feel I damage its beauty.

I also know that the wood is a part of me as I am a part of it.


Walking in the Steps of Gilbert White

March 25, 2015
Walking in the footsteps of pioneering naturalist Gilbert White – the great walk approaches

Over 80 people have so far signed up to walk in the footsteps of the great pioneering eighteenth century naturalist and writer, Gilbert White.  Between 27th April and 5th May Rosemary Irwin, from the Gilbert White’s and the Oates Collections in Selborne, Hampshire, will be fulfilling a long held ambition by taking the 74-mile journey from Gilbert White’s former home in Selborne to Oriel College, Oxford –  a regular journey of White’s during his days as fellow of the College.

 Says Rosemary, chairman of the trustees of the Museum and brainchild and organiser of the walk; ‘This walk is all about making Gilbert White’s huge contribution to natural history and science better known, and to raise money to help us renovate the museum so that we can continue to fascinate lovers of the English landscape and nature for years to come’.

 The Reverend Gilbert White was a naturalist, scientist, writer, gardener, clergyman and countryman.  His delightful book about the nature and countryside surrounding his beloved village in the South Downs – “The Natural History of Selborne” (1789) – is one of the most popular books in the English language and has never been out of print. ‘Gilbert White’s book, more than any other, has shaped our everyday view of the relations between humans and nature.’ says Richard Mabey, naturalist and White’s biographer.

 Rosemary is hoping that, through her long walk from the Hampshire corner of the South Downs to Oxford, Gilbert White will get the attention he justly deserves.  Says Rosemary again; ‘How many people know that he was a great man, a scientist, a writer of genius, a lover of nature and gardens, someone who could classify ‘little brown birds’ by their songs into different species, had a delightful sense of humour and cared deeply about the poor? He is considered to be ‘the father of ecology’ because of his ground-breaking discoveries through the study of weather, plants and ‘wild things’?  Even Charles Darwin claimed that he stood on the shoulders of White and made a pilgrimage to Selborne in 1857.’

 White is famous for the way he studied – making minute observations over a long period from his garden as well as from his walks and rides in the countryside near his  home, noticing things – like the fact that owls hoot in B flat!  Says Simon Barnes, writing in The Times (1 June 2013) ‘(White) invented three entire sciences: ecology, ethology and phenology (the study of recurring seasonal events) which is of immense relevance now, as climate change has become one of the most pressing issues facing the planet ….he saw the connections and the connectedness. He understood the way it all fits together.”

Rosemary has been preparing her route for over a year and has been able to plot a route that takes in lovely countryside alongside canals and rivers.  Says Rosemary; ‘Gilbert loathed coaches and was often coach sick,  so he would have made the journey on horseback.    Gilbert would have probably gone by what are now major roads, and we could do the same but it wouldn’t be much fun.’

Rosemary has plenty of support from well-wishers hoping to accompany her – including a descendant of the Oates family But more are welcome – those wishing to join part or all of the 75-mile walk can choose from:

 Day 1: 8 miles (Selborne – Shalden)

Day 2: 9 miles (Shalden – Newnham)

Day 3: 9 miles (Newnham – Beech Hill)

Day 4: 8 miles (Beech Hill – Sulhamstead)

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: 11 miles (Sulhamstead – Goring)

Day 7: 12 miles (Goring – Dorchester)

Day 8: 9 miles (Dorchester – Abingdon)

Day 9: 9 miles (Abingdon – Oxford)

 The walk costs £25 per person per day and £10 per dog per day.  Children under 18 are welcome for free but the pace will not be suitable for those under 10. If you would rather not walk but would like to sponsor Rosemary visit  For registration and more details visit the website.


For further information please contact Rachel Shimell  email:

Notes to Editors:

The South Downs National Park

From rolling hills to bustling market towns, the South Downs National Park’s landscapes cover 1,600km2 of breathtaking views and hidden gems. A rich tapestry of wildlife, landscapes, tranquillity and visitor attractions, weave together a story of people and place in harmony. Discover the white cliffs of Seven Sisters, rolling farmland, ancient woodland and lowland heaths or enjoy our ‘picture perfect’ villages, traditional country pubs or flourishing vineyards. Let the South Downs National Park subtly seduce you.

East  Hampshire The area of the South Downs that spills into East Hampshire – around Chawton where Jane Austen lived – has quite a different feel from the rest of the new National Park.  Hidden away between the cathedral cities of Winchester and Chichester, its steep wooded hills and hidden valleys of watercress farms, lavender fields, vineyards, hop gardens and trout-filled streams, together with its picture-perfect villages and peaceful market towns, make it undoubtedly one of the loveliest parts of rural England.

About the Museum Gilbert White & the Oates Collections is an Independent Charitable Trust and Accredited Museum, Reg Charity No. 307098. “The Natural History of Selborne,” published by the Reverend Gilbert White in 1789, has been described as “the first serious work on ecology”, and is one of a handful of books that have never been out of print since publication, along with the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare & Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.   Gilbert White was a pathfinder at the birth of ecology. He pointed the way to the organised study of the natural world which is a vital weapon in our ability to monitor, measure and understand what is happening to our planet. The Scott Expedition of 1912 – commemorated in our exhibition to Captain Oates – laid the scientific foundation for modern climate studies based on understanding the Antarctic.



Lancaster~A Small English Town Bringing Together the Past and the Present

March 24, 2015

I think it a good idea to have occasional guest blogs on Over the Hills. This first one is by Basak Tanulku from Istanbul, who writes:

I am an independent scholar from Istanbul, Turkey, who is curious about anything related to cities. My general research interests are urban studies; neighbourhoods and communities; gated communities; socio-spatial segregation and housing; urban heritage and preservation; the relation between space and people; urban transformation and the formation of new inequalities and resistances.

I lived in Lancaster for almost seven years, between the years 2004 and 2011. I came to Lancaster to conduct my PhD studies in Sociology on the gated communities in Istanbul (Lancaster University).  I have a particular interest in the Lake District and Cumbria, which I became familiar with as the result of my daily trips to the Lakes and Cumbria region. I like walking and hiking in the countryside, local history, and arts.

Lancaster: A Small English Town Bringing together the Past and the Present

In this short piece I would like to give information on Lancaster and the surrounding area for visitors from abroad as well as different parts of England. I find myself lucky to have lived in Lancaster for almost seven years while conducting my PhD studies in the University of Lancaster. For me Lancaster is a town overlooked by many, something which I also felt when I firstly came there in 2004. For most students who came to the university from large cities, Lancaster was not an attractive town, since it was found small and claustrophobic. However, Lancaster contained the three most desirable features to be considered “attractive” for me: it was small, green and old. Lancaster and the surrounding area still kept some of the rural features that shaped the English countryside something which I became fascinated with from my first day there.

Of course Lancaster does not offer a seven-star luxury or a picturesque view full of manicured streets and renovated English cottages. However, it has something more than these: first, it allows visitors travelling in time while walking in streets which still attain the old built environment, characterised by mainly Georgian and Victorian architecture. The old town area is an almost untouched site which contains the Lancaster Castle, famous for the trail of Lancaster witches during the first decade of the 1600s and the Lancaster Priory. At the other end of the town, up the hills there is the Taj Mahal of Lancaster, the Ashton Memorial, erected to commemorate the wife of Lord Ashton during the early 20th century. The site is covered with well-preserved woodland, offering good walking opportunities and views of the spectacular Lake District. Behind it, there is GB Antiques Market, a large bazaar offering both luxurious and cheap furniture, jewellery, paintings, pottery and collectables.

In addition, Lancaster can also be considered as a creative town due to several galleries addressing particularly contemporary art, such as the Storey, a hub for contemporary arts, the Dukes Theatre and Cinema, a centre for independent movies and live theatre performances and the Gregson Community Centre, alongside with the University of Lancaster’s Peter Scott Gallery, Nuffield Theatre and concert hall. The town’s richness in cultural activities is due to the existence of two higher education institutions which host a diverse student, academic and visitor population. The first is the University of Lancaster, a research-driven university of 50 years and the second is the University of Cumbria, a much recently established university. In addition, Lancaster also hosts Lancaster Music Festival since 2009 each October, and has good food and drinks options of both international and local English cuisine, which can be enjoyed in various pubs, restaurants and independent cafes. For me Lancaster was a relatively cheaper town, if compared with large cities in terms of accommodation and daily expenses while it offered various leisure activities at budget. In addition, it was easier for me to travel to Manchester, the capital of the Industrial North, a metropolitan centre which I found too tough and masculine characterised by old mills and Victorian architecture symbolising its industrial heritage as well as a diverse night life, and artistic hubs such as the Lowry, the Corner House symbolising its present post-industrial legacy.

However, for me Lancaster’s most important advantage was its proximity to the Lake District, the largest national park of England and Wales established in 1951, with which I fell in love at first sight. There is nothing I would add to such a place – in my opinion, it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen which inspired poets and painters since the Romantic Era. The Lake District has a diverse and picturesque landscape which has more than just one layer like a stage: At first, you can see a small lake and a river which intermingle, and then behind them, there is a wooded area decorated with cottages and cotton ball-like sheep. Behind this lie fells not nearly as high as real mountains, but which still allow you to feel scale and grandeur. It is both English and Celtic, with stone circles and castles, thought to be of King Arthur and his father, Pendragon and names which reflect English and Celtic languages. It is both made by man and nature over thousands of years, resulting in a beauty natural and manufactured at the same time. It is both dependent on farming, as it has been for thousands of years, and on tourism, carrying thousands of people to experience its beauty and tradition.

When I was travelling within the Lake District I did not take a train to Windermere or car as a person without a driving licence. Instead, I always preferred the bus number 555, which connected Lancaster and Keswick across a beautiful route. By doing this, I was able to see beautiful villages, pathways, green fields, lakes, hills and many more interesting details, which I would never been able to see if I had taken a car or train. My last visit to Lancaster was on September 2014 when I found the opportunity to stroll around Lancaster’s streets, and the university campus. During the same visit, I again took the bus number 555 to Keswick as I did in the past.

I do not know when I will visit again the area, but I recommend all people to enjoy Lancaster, either for short-term visits or for longer periods of time. For me, Lancaster was and still is a beautiful town at the crossroads between the urban and rural realms bringing together the medieval, industrial and post-industrial heritage within walking distance.

John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps

March 21, 2015

It’s hard to believe that John Buchan’s classic thriller “The Thirty-Nine Steps” was first published a hundred years ago, in October 1915, following a serial publication in Blackwood’s Magazine the previous summer.

John Buchan Country near Broughton

John Buchan Country

The adventures of Richard Hannay as he is pursued both by the police and German spies across the lonely hills of Galloway and Tweeddale have entranced readers ever since. It is, without question, the finest chase thriller ever written (though, arguably, Geoffrey Household’s “Rogue Male” comes in as a close second.)

“The Thirty-Nine Steps” was written in the first months of the Great War. Many of Buchan’s friends were already fighting in France and Belgium, but Buchan himself was ill and confined to bed. He spent the time writing what was to become his most famous work, though he always referred to it as a “shocker”.

In his dedication to his friend the publisher Tommy Nelson, who was later to be killed in the trenches, he described his new book as ‘a romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible’ – a definition that Raymond Chandler considered ‘a pretty good formula for the thriller of any kind.’

And the pace of “The Thirty-Nine Steps” is terrific. It could have been written yesterday, with its immediacy and non-stop action. The fate of Richard Hannay has inspired hundreds of ‘innocent in peril’ thrillers ever since, both books and films. It has been, of course, an enormous influence on filmmakers, particularly Alfred Hitchcock who made an film of the book in 1935 – even if he did fiddle considerably with Buchan’s plot.

And on the subject of the film versions, there have been three. Hitchcock’s starring Robert Donat, a 1960 version with Kenneth More and a 1970s take – actually properly set in 1914 – with Robert Powell (who went on to play Hannay again in an off-piste but entertaining TV series). All three are enormous fun and worth seeing, but they do take quite a few liberties with the original. There was also a recent BBC TV film about which the less said the better!

Where Buchan is very good is in his spirit of place. A considerable walker in wild places, he captures the Scottish landscape in a way that no other writer ever has, exceeding the descriptive powers of even Scott, Stevenson and Munro. You smell the heather, feel the wet of the hill-rain, sweat under the sun of a hot day in the Borders. You experience the physically exhausting – though sometimes exhilarating – experience of the man-hunt, as Hannay is pursued from one adventurous peril to another. Buchan put his great knowledge of every corner of these Scottish hills to very good use.

For decades Buchan was dismissed as a very slight writer, but he had had a considerable re-evaluation in recent years. His stature as one of the masters of Scottish fiction has at last been recognised. And he has a real relevance to the modern world. “Greenmantle”, the sequel to “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, gives a take on middle-eastern politics that seems very contemporary and shows a deep understanding of much that confronts the world today.
I have lost count of the number of times I have read “The Thirty-Nine Steps”. I could probably rewrite it from memory. But how I long to set out again with Richard Hannay as he flees a busy London and begins his long chase across the Border hills from some lonely railway station in Galloway.

Since I first read the novel as a boy, I have come to know some of these hills myself and can vouch for the accuracy of Buchan’s descriptions. In many ways Buchan has influenced my own writing. I was as pleased as punch when a reviewer, very generously, compared my recent thriller “Balmoral Kill” to the works of Buchan.

If you’ve never followed the adventures of Richard Hannay through “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, “Greenmantle”, “Mr Standfast”, “The Three Hostages” and “The Island of Sheep” please do try them.

And if you can, in the centenary year of the “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, why not see if you can get up to the hills of the Scottish Borders and pretend, just for a delicious childish moment, that you ARE Richard Hannay, being chased through the heather by some sinister and very deadly gentry with guns.

You might also like to seek out a lovely book of essays on the novel by John Burnett and Kate Mackay entitle “John Buchan and The Thirty-Nine Steps”, published by National Museum Scotland. The website of the John Buchan Society is worth a visit too.

The town of Peebles has a very good museum dedicated to the life and works of John Buchan. And for a taste of Buchan country try walking the thirteen-mile John Buchan Way from Broughton to Peebles. You can download a route leaflet from the internet. See also blogs passim for walking in Buchan country.

This blog first appeared on the Gaslight Crime Blog, in which we review classic crime novels and thrillers. Please do take a look and click follow. The address is

Say No To The Lowthers Says Open Spaces Society

March 20, 2015



The Open Spaces Society,(1) Britain’s leading pressure-group for common land,(2) has objected to renewed plans by the Lowther Estate to develop White Moss Common next to the A591 between Rydal Water and Grasmere in the Lake District National Park.

Last year the estate applied for a visitor centre and hierarchy of routes at the existing car-park but the Lake District National Park Authority’s members rejected the plans, overturning the advice of their officers.

Now, Jim Lowther, brother of the eighth Earl of Lonsdale who is custodian of the family’s 117-square-mile estate, is trying again to win this development.

Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘This application is very similar to the one which was rejected by the authority last November. It is still proposed to take registered common land, a special type of land on which the public has rights of walk and ride. This means that the works would need, in addition to planning consent, the approval of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.

‘There is no need to develop visitor facilities in this attractive, quiet location. The proposed building, euphemistically called a “Welcome Hub”, would be an ugly intrusion in this wild landscape. It appears to be primarily a money-earner for the estate. The proposed visitor facilities, including bike hire and event venue, are totally inappropriate here and would generate much additional traffic.

‘The development would conflict with the first national park purpose, to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the park, and we do not believe it complies with the second purpose, to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the park’s special qualities.

‘There is no reason why the authority should vote differently this time. It should say a resounding “no” to Jim Lowther,’ says Kate.
Notes for editors
1 The Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body. It campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them, throughout England and Wales.

2. Common is land subject to rights of common, to graze animals or collect wood for instance, or waste land of the manor not subject to rights. The public has the right to walk on all commons and to ride on some, such as White Moss Common. Before any works can be constructed on common land the applicant must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (via the Planning Inspectorate) under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, in addition to any planning permission.


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