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The Marches by Rory Stewart
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The Marches (original 2017; edition 2017)

by Rory Stewart (Author)

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1685131,180 (3.27)26
Explores the landscape of the author's home on the borderland between England and Scotland--known as the Marches--and the history, people, and conflicts that have shaped it.In The Places in Between, Rory Stewart walked some of the most dangerous borderlands in the world. Now he travels with his 89-year-old father--a comical, wily courageous, and infuriating former British intelligence officer--along the border they call home. On Stewart's 400-mile walk across a magnificent natural landscape, he sleeps on mountain ridges and in housing projects, in hostels and farmhouses. With every fresh encounter--from an Afghanistan veteran based on Hadrian's Wall to a shepherd who still counts his flock in sixth-century words--Stewart uncovers more about the forgotten peoples and languages of a vanished country now crushed between England and Scotland. Stewart and his father are drawn into unsettling reflections on landscape, their parallel careers in the bygone British Empire and Iraq, and the past, present, and uncertain future of the United Kingdom. And as the end approaches, his father's stubborn charm transforms this chronicle of nations into a fierce, exuberant encounter between a father and a son. This is a profound reflection on family, landscape, and history by a powerful and original writer.--From dust jacket.… (more)
Member:cajdavidson
Title:The Marches
Authors:Rory Stewart (Author)
Info:Vintage (2017), Edition: 01, 368 pages
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The Marches: A Borderland Journey between England and Scotland by Rory Stewart (2017)

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Showing 5 of 5
Fascinating in its slowness, tranquility. Made it halfway through over 2 years on and mostly off. Too much of the same without gaining anything from this personal history. ( )
  andreas.wpv | Jul 24, 2020 |
We tend to think of the UK as one complete country, but there are separate countries here that have their own distinct identity and outlook. This loosely defined border between us and the Scottish has existed since Roman times. Their farthest outpost, it suffered from marauding Picts and Celts who took every opportunity to give the Romans a bloody nose, hence why they built Hadrian’s Wall. It was this 200 year old monument that Stewart chose to walk as his first journey in this book. Some of the time he walked with his elderly father, though not the whole route, choosing to walk a short way before meeting elsewhere. Sometime he walk with soldiers, not long returned from Afghanistan, a country that he knew from a walk described in The Places in Between.

The second part of the book is a walk that he takes from his home in Cumbria to his father’s house in Broich. This 380 mile route takes him through the border country, or has he calls it, the Middleland. Mixing sleeping out on mountains staying in other accommodation, he takes 21 days to complete it, but it is as much a discovery of the landscape, region and the people that inhabit it and learning about its fluid and torrid past. His third journey is a metaphorical one; it is a celebration and tribute to his father, someone who was very dear to him.

It is a difficult book to classify, it is a travel book in parts and a history book in others and a homage to his father at the end. Parts of the book are really well written, my favourite being the Middleland walk where he crosses the political, cultural and geological boundaries of this borderland. It didn’t seem quite as focused as it could have been though. It was enjoyable though, and will be reading The Places in Between as I picked up a copy recently. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
This book did not match my expectations. I expected the entire book to be a travelogue, but it also told of the author's relationship to his father and of his father's final years. I enjoyed the travelogue portions which told about the places visited and included interesting historical facts, family history information, and literature relating to the place, as well as a brief description. However, the book overall seemed a bit disjointed. I discovered Stewart resigned his Parliamentary seat within the last week or so, so I suppose it's fitting that I read it now. ( )
  thornton37814 | Oct 14, 2019 |
A book that perhaps did not turn out quite as the author expected, this is part travelogue of a long walk along and around Hadrian's Wall, also between Rory Stewart's Cumbria constituency and his family home near Crieff, musings about the Roman Empire and Scottish identity but, perhaps best of all and movingly, about his father in old age and upon his death. Although it is a bit of a guddle at times, it is a good and at times delightful book, a good read about history, identity and a strong father-son relationship. Rory Stewart clearly thinks widely and deeply and this is reflected in his writing. ( )
  DramMan | Jan 25, 2017 |
The Marches by Rory Stewart

The Marches is Rory Stewart's fourth book but it has much in common with his first book The Places In Between. The Marches defies easy classification as it is part travelogue, part history, and part narrative of a unique father/son relationship.

The Places in Between chronicles Stewart's hike across Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban. The book catapulted Stewart to fame. Stewart seems like a man from a different era, specifically that breed of explorers like Sir Richard Burton or Francis Younghusband who were not only explorers but poets, naturalists, statesmen and writers.

Following the success of The Places in Between, Stewart founded a non-profit in Kabul dedicated to teaching traditional Afghani crafts. He then joined the British diplomatic service following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and became a deputy governor of one of the southern provinces (the story of which forms the basis for his second and, in my opinion, best book The Prince of the Marshes. Following those exploits, Stewart taught at Harvard only to leave that position and run for Parliament. His first attempt was unsuccessful but he was elected in Penrith and the Border in 2009. In 2016, he became the Minister of State at the Department of International Development. It seems unlikely that his political career will end there but who knows. My hope is that he continues to write wonderful books.

The Marches, is similar to The Places in Between as it grows out of Stewart's decision to undertake two hikes through the border country between Scotland and England and then the Middlelands - a collection of former kingdoms, like the kingdom of Northumbria, that once sat between Scotland and England but were largely destroyed by the Norse invaders and ultimately absorbed into Scotland and England. The first walk runs along Hadrian's Wall and Stewart discusses the wall, its creation, and the impact that such a wall must have had on the people's both inside and outside the wall. Stewart starts out with the idea that walking the wall will help him understand the divisions between England and Scotland and the decisions driving a vote for Scottish independence.

The second walk, through the Middlelands, is more of a walk through a vanished world. While Stewart finds traces of Northumbria and similar kingdoms, much has been lost. Even more distressing is how few of the people that encounter the remnants in their daily lives understand the significance of the monuments and buildings.

Stewart makes it clear that he sets out on these walks to try and understand the land, its history, and the people - precisely what his walk through Afghanistan did. However, as Stewart describes, his plan collapses. The historical ties to the land that Stewart expects to find are largely gone. Many of the people inhabiting the land are more closely tied to far flung places around the globe. Scotland in particular comes across as an almost modern creation and that the kilts, the bagpipers and so on are more the stuff of Braveheart than any reflection of an actual culture. The few remnants of the true division between Scotland and England are largely unknown and forgotten by the nearby residents.

Throughout his walks, Stewart discusses his findings, his thoughts, and his frustrations with his elderly father. It takes awhile to fully develop but eventually it becomes clear that [The Marches] is as much about Stewart's relationship with his father as it is about the Middlelands and the Scottish/English border. This dialogue between father and son ultimately forms the core of the book and there are very interesting parallels between Stewart's observations about the modern border region and his father.

Stewart's father, Brian Stewart, is a walking embodiment of Empire. His career begins in the Second World War and the proceeds to various far flung diplomatic posts in Malaysia, Vietnam and Hong Kong where he rose to a very senior level in MI6. Brian Stewart took great pride in his Scottish heritage and insists on wearing tartans and teaching his son Scottish dancing. But like many of the people that Rory Stewart encounters in his walk, Brian Stewart's intense pride in his Scottish heritage is as much a personal creation as it is a reflection of any actual, inherited culture.

Stewart's work at trying to sort through his relationship with his father and his attempt to draw a common thread from history to his walks in the borderlands ultimately fails to come together. In the third section of the book, Brian Stewart grows increasingly frail and dies.

In less capable hands, the death of Brian Stewart and the failure to trace a single narrative for the borderlands would seem to make a failure of a book. But The Marches does not fail. Rather, it seems to come together with an acknowledgment that some of our truest stories are invented ones and that while we may crave stories that follow a straight line and finish with a satisfying denouement real life does not always oblige.

The Marches ends with a poignant description of Brian Stewart's funeral as his son asks the mourners to join in Scottish dancing in remembrance. Rory Stewart wryly acknowledges that the dance is a bastardized version of a dance from the French court and has little to do with the ancient Scottish highlands but yet it is fitting memorial to a man who prided himself on his Scottish heritage but lived a life more tied to Empire and the East than he ever was to Scotland.

The Marches is an engaging book that sticks with you after completion. However, the more I have thought about the book the more I feel like the reader would benefit from having read The Places in Between first as The Marches does much to expand on themes first raised by Stewart in the earlier book. Since The Place in Between is such an excellent book, a read or a re-read is well worth the time before diving into the The Marches. ( )
3 vote Oberon | Dec 5, 2016 |
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Explores the landscape of the author's home on the borderland between England and Scotland--known as the Marches--and the history, people, and conflicts that have shaped it.In The Places in Between, Rory Stewart walked some of the most dangerous borderlands in the world. Now he travels with his 89-year-old father--a comical, wily courageous, and infuriating former British intelligence officer--along the border they call home. On Stewart's 400-mile walk across a magnificent natural landscape, he sleeps on mountain ridges and in housing projects, in hostels and farmhouses. With every fresh encounter--from an Afghanistan veteran based on Hadrian's Wall to a shepherd who still counts his flock in sixth-century words--Stewart uncovers more about the forgotten peoples and languages of a vanished country now crushed between England and Scotland. Stewart and his father are drawn into unsettling reflections on landscape, their parallel careers in the bygone British Empire and Iraq, and the past, present, and uncertain future of the United Kingdom. And as the end approaches, his father's stubborn charm transforms this chronicle of nations into a fierce, exuberant encounter between a father and a son. This is a profound reflection on family, landscape, and history by a powerful and original writer.--From dust jacket.

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