The Rambler‘s Countryside Companion is a book I spotted in my local Oxfam shop recently. I was attracted by the cover. I can’t reproduce it here due to copyright law. It’s an illustration of a smiling young couple in shorts striding up a hillside, away from a busy road full of cars you’d only see in a motor museum these days and beyond the road is a field, on the edges of which stand a thatched and a tiled house.
The book was suspiciously in pristine condition. The reason is that it’s a 2010 repro of the 1930s original. The foreword, written by the author – one E Mansell – explains that the book is his record of unusual “… scraps and oddments…” the author has come across on his wanderings and rambles in “… all manner of places”. Its object was to help and entertain fellow wanderers.
It doesn’t sound like much of an effort, today, but when the author put this book together, he had to walk his talk – do all the walking to find all the curiosities he’s written about – then do all his research and in an era when there was no World Wide Web. The walking would probably have meant public transport to get to the spot in the first place and while carrying food and equipment (that would have weighed more than such equipment weighs today).
Also, the illustrations are drawings and not photographs. There’s a beautiful drawing, for instance, of a circular dovecote. It’s set amongst trees; white doves fly round it, there’s a path and plants and the suggestion of a breeze. It’s a drawing of several hours’ work.
And the book is not just interesting, it’s fascinating. For instance, Chapter One, entitled Relics from the Past is about Megaliths. Mansell writes about Menhirs, Dolmens and Cromlechs, of which, like most people, I’ve both heard and seen. I’d never heard of Sarsen stones though. The name is most interesting. It’s a contraction and distortion of Saracen, from a time when all stone circles and megaliths were associated with heathens and devils and unfortunately and ignorantly, anyone or any race belonging to a non-Christian religion, was deemed one or the other or both!
Chapter V Along the Road deals with road markers such as milestones and signposts and gates and stiles. There is a diversity of stile types. One is called a Squeezer Stile. It’s v-shaped, keeping cattle from passing but letting a rambler through – except if he’s of, er, portly bearing! The Squeezer Stile is named Fat Man’s Misery in straightforward Derbyshire!
Toby Jugs, Pillow Lace Bobbins, Elf Darts, Telling the Bees, Hammer Ponds – the book is full of such delightful terms. Yes, you can look them up on Wikipedia, but the book’s worth having as a curiosity in itself – as a memoir of a man well-rambled.
You can buy The Countryside Companion from Amazon. There are various versions and I don’t know if the content varies or not, but the one in the above link carries the same picture as on the cover of my copy.
- Macmillan and the Ramblers join forces to get people walking (mediacentre.dh.gov.uk)
- Ramblers Analysis of Country Landowners Report (stravaigerjohn.wordpress.com)
- Kinder Scout 80th Anniversary – New Ramblers Campaign (stravaigerjohn.wordpress.com)