Back in May, I requested a copy of Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past by John Higgs because, living just off this ancient road, I was interested to learn more about it.
In this book, Higgs takes us on a journey along one of Britain’s oldest roads, from the White Cliffs of Dover to the Druid groves of Anglesey, which was long ago formed by the tramping of feet; straightened by the army of Rome and gained the name Watling Street in the Dark Ages. This has been a road of witches and ghosts, of queens and highwaymen, of history and myth, of Chaucer, Dickens and James Bond. Alongside it Boudicca met her end; the Battle of Bosworth was fought; the Nazi’s enigma code was broken at Bletchley Park and Capability Brown remodelled the English landscape.
Methodically, Higgs works his way up the road starting in London and stopping off at key points along the way to discuss the history of the area; the people who lived there and the culture that sprung up there. Each stop off is detailed and well described, but loose in structure as Higgs allows his thoughts and feelings to meander and grow. Which is great when it is a topic you enjoy, however I found it hard when he got into full flow on something I didn’t share his passion on.
I found the glimpse into the history, culture and characters of Canterbury, the infamous Tyburn, St Albans, Dunstable and Bletchley fascinating. On the other hand, I wasn’t very interested in the town planning of Milton Keynes; the street football game in Atherstone or the enthusing on life in London (not living there myself). So a real mixed bag! Sadly there was also no stop off in my own home town. In fact it only warranted one or two lines! While I learnt more about the rest of the road, I have to admit being extremely disappointed not to learn anything about my own piece of the road.
Overall though, I thought Watling Street by John Higgs was an interesting, if somewhat eccentric and meandering, exploration of the people, history and culture that has grown up along this ancient road. Okay read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Or anything else about Watling Street?