Book Review: The Land Of Giants

The Land Of Giants:  A Journey Through The Dark Ages, by Max Adams

This book is an attempt on the part of the author to walk through different trips in the British isles as a way of better understanding the Dark Ages in Great Britain.  As one might expect, though, one ends up finding a lot more about the author and our own contemporary age than one finds out about the dark ages through the course of these trips.  This is not too disappointing, both because it is hard for contemporary Brits to uncover the dark ages given the density of continuous occupation of many areas that were inhabited and the lack of knowledge about large chunks of the time as it relates to the time the author is seeking to uncover.  But if this book is not as good about the Dark Ages as one would hope, it is an enjoyable account of a series of walking tours where the author only demonstrates himself to be a bit of a hipster and where he manages to show some humorous interactions with others that make it a book easy to enjoy even if not as helpful in understanding the Dark Ages as one would hope.

The author begins this book with a discussion about the source material of the Middle Ages and the challenges it presents to contemporary readers.  After that the author takes a hike from Rothesay to Kilmartin in the ancient but often ignored kingdom of Dal Riata, which once held land simultaneously in both Ireland and Scotland.  After this comes an interlude with a walking tour from Gilsland to Haltwhistle before there is a walk along the Marches of Wales from Telford to Wrexham involving some thoughts on the crossing of the Severn.  There is an interlude from Haltwhistle to Hotbank before the author goes searching for the early East Anglian kings from London to Sutton Hoo.  There is an interlude from Once Brewed to Warden Hill before the author walks from Falmouth to Mallaig, walks around Corbridge, and travels from Wareham to Yatton and also walks along Hadrian’s Wall.  There is some time spent around the Britons from Anglesey to Bardsey Island, an interlude along the Tyne, a walk through Donegal, an interlude from Ovingham to Newcastle, a walk from Meigle to Canterbury, an interlude form Newcastle to Jarrow, and a walk from York to Whitby, along with a postscript asking who are the British, a note on journey distances, and a timeline of the author’s various journeys before notes, recommended reading, and acknowledgements.

There is something to appreciate in the author’s ability to walk areas that are well-known to students of British history, including a lot of battlefields like Maldon, and places that were important both now and in the early Middle Ages.  The author ponders areas where time has changed the isles to a great degree and wonders how it is that areas that used to be trading routes and busy and flourishing communities ended up being contemporary places that time seems to have forgotten and that are backwaters far from contemporary trade paths.  One wonders, of course, what it is that leads to areas being vibrant or ignored as possible ways for people and goods to travel, and what it would take to make trade blossom in the area between Ulster and Scotland.  Needless to say, the conflict between Scot-Irish and Irish has probably hindered a great deal of the trade that could take place in those regions, and even a fair amount of the travel that could move along such waters.  The author, unsurprisingly, gets involved in the speculation about the population effects of various migrations into the Isles, which makes for an interesting discussion, and there is as lot to enjoy here if you like discussions of foot travel in the British Isles.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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