Graham Robb, apart from being a distinguished historian, biographer and literary critic, is one of our most accomplished travel writers. His The Discovery of France remains a classic, made both engaging and accessible by his very francophile obsession with cycling. Indeed, his new book, The Debatable Land, opens with a declaration that ‘writing and cycling are inseparable pursuits’.
The debatable land in question is the thin wedge of territory between England and Scotland on the west coast which, for a period in the late Middle Ages, was officially declared as lawless by the parliaments of each country. The resulting piece of English legislation contains a quite magnificent disclaimer:
All Englishmen and Scottishmen are and shall be free to rob, burn, spoil, slay, murder and destroy, all and every such person and persons, their bodies, property, goods and livestock… without any redress to be made for same.