The author’s journey along Hadrian’s Wall, which allowed him “to explore and answer questions about Scottish nationalism, Rome, Frontiers, and Empires.”
There are few authors whose books are automatic purchases, whatever the subject, universal or arcane. Stewart (The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq, 2006, etc.) is just such an author, and here, he introduces his father to give us an idea of where he got his drive to fully understand the people around him. He is now a Member of Parliament living in Cumbria, England, while his father, Brian, lives in the family home in Scotland. Stewart’s Scottish heritage is rich and deep; as he notes, his father “and all his father’s father’s ancestors, his father’s mother’s ancestors, and his mother’s father’s ancestors were born, lived and had died, for at least two centuries, in one tiny geographical area.” This book began as a father-son walk to explore the Marches (the borderlands) and find the feelings that might foretell the outcome of the coming Scottish Referendum. His greatest talent is in getting people to speak to him and actually listening to what they say, a skill on full display in his previous books about Afghanistan and Iraq. Stewart saw a similar talent in his father when they lived in Malaya, where Brian—a fascinating character in his own right—worked in the colonial offices; he often left his post to travel around and get to know the indigenous people. The author notes similarities between the marches in Roman times and the tribes of Afghanistan and in Iraq. Taking a second walk without his father, he sought the true heritage of the lost “Middleland.” Throughout, Stewart makes it a joy to learn every tree, flower, and butterfly, to explore where Roman forts stood, and to understand the ancient histories of the region.
Another winner from a consistently engaging author.