The Lost World Between Scotland and England

Download (12)Alan Taylor at Literary Review:

Like the much-mythologised Wild West, the Debatable Land was terra nullius, where the writ of law was by and large ignored and bad men roamed at will. Situated where the northwest of England meets the southwest of Scotland, it was long an inhospitable, inhuman corner of the country: hilly, boggy, inaccessible and, five centuries and more ago, a tapestry of trees. The weather was similarly forbidding. When it rains in these parts, which it does more often than not, it is with torrential relentlessness.

Why anyone with a choice in the matter would want to live hereabouts is not easily explained. Graham Robb, whose books include biographies of Balzac, Hugo and Rimbaud as well as an innovative history of Paris, moved in 2010 from cloistered Oxford to a pile in the middle of nowhere. One of its former owners was Nicholas Ridley, of Northumbrian stock, who as a minister in the Thatcher government was responsible for launching the poll tax at his Scottish neighbours. As Robb writes, ‘The fact that Ridley had settled on the border itself was a kind of provocation, as was the title he chose for himself when he was created a life peer: Baron Ridley of Liddesdale.’

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