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Holloway, by Robert Macfarlane - review

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

Holloway Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards

Faber, pp.40, £14.99

This is a very short book recording two visits to the hills around Chideock in Dorset.In the first Robert Macfarlane and the late Roger Deakin, author of Waterlog, go searching for the ‘holloway’ in which Geoffrey Household’s hero holes up in Rogue Male. A holloway (not to be found in the OED) is, in Macfarlane’s words, ‘a sunken path, a deep & shady lane’ and, according to Household, ‘a lane not marked on the map’.

The second trip, made with Macfarlane’s co-authors after Deakin’s death, revisits the holloway, and the hill-fort at the top of Pilsdon Pen. After Macfarlane’s Edward Thomas-infused account follows Dan Richards’s more subjective prose poetry describing the same experience in the ‘tendril fog’ around the hill-fort.

This is a slightly precious piece of work, a mysterious publication (it will sell on Macfarlane’s name) with a mysterious subject. What it most immediately brings to mind is Kipling’s equally mysterious ‘The Way Through the Woods’, with that poem’s suggestion of the ancient and secret sense of the past inhabiting the present.

Those for whom the word ‘Holloway’ infects the mind with images of the busy, scrofulous way out of north London, will find this a cleansing palliative.

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