Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place

University of Chicago Press
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In 2010, Philip Marsden, whom Giles Foden has called “one of our most thoughtful travel writers,” moved with his family to a rundown farmhouse in the countryside in Cornwall. From the moment he arrived, Marsden found himself fascinated by the landscape around him, and, in particular, by the traces of human history—and of the human relationship to the land—that could be seen all around him. Wanting to experience the idea more fully, he set out to walk across Cornwall, to the evocatively named Land’s End.

Rising Ground is a record of that journey, but it is also so much more: a beautifully written meditation on place, nature, and human life that encompasses history, archaeology, geography, and the love of place that suffuses us when we finally find home. Firmly in a storied tradition of English nature writing that stretches from Gilbert White to Helen MacDonald, Rising Ground reveals the ways that places and peoples have interacted over time, from standing stones to footpaths, ancient habitations to modern highways. What does it mean to truly live in a place, and what does it take to understand, and honor, those who lived and died there long before we arrived?

Like the best travel and nature writing, Rising Ground is written with the pace of a contemplative walk, and is rich with insight and a powerful sense of the long skein of years that links us to our ancestors. Marsden’s close, loving look at the small patch of earth around him is sure to help you see your own place—and your own home—anew.
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About the author

Philip Marsden is the award-winning author of a number of works of fiction, nonfiction, and travel writing, including The Levelling Sea, The Spirit-Wrestlers, and The Bronski House.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Mar 25, 2016
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780226366128
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Language
English
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Genres
Nature / General
Science / Earth Sciences / General
Travel / Essays & Travelogues
Travel / Europe / Great Britain
Travel / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Through the centuries, people from all walks of life have heard the siren call of a pilgrimage, the lure to journey away from the familiar in search of understanding. But is a pilgrimage even possible these days for city-dwellers enmeshed in the pressures of work and family life? Or is there a way to be a pilgrim without leaving one’s life behind? James Attlee answers these questions with Isolarion, a thoughtful, streetwise, and personal account of his pilgrimage to a place he thought he already knew—the Cowley Road in Oxford, right outside his door.

Isolarion takes its title from a type of fifteenth-century map that isolates an area in order to present it in detail, and that’s what Attlee, sharp-eyed and armed with tape recorder and notebook, provides for Cowley Road. The former site of a leper hospital, a workhouse, and a medieval well said to have miraculous healing powers, Cowley Road has little to do with the dreaming spires of the tourist’s or student’s Oxford. What Attlee presents instead is a thoroughly modern, impressively cosmopolitan, and utterly organic collection of shops, restaurants, pubs, and religious establishments teeming with life and reflecting the multicultural makeup of the surrounding neighborhood.

From a sojourn in a sensory-deprivation tank to a furtive visit to an unmarked pornography emporium, Attlee investigates every aspect of the Cowley Road’s appealingly eclectic culture, where halal shops jostle with craft jewelers and reggae clubs pulsate alongside quiet churchyards. But the very diversity that is, for Attlee, the essence of Cowley Road’s appeal is under attack from well-meaning city planners and predatory developers. His pilgrimage is thus invested with melancholy: will the messy glories of the Cowley Road be lost to creeping homogenization?

Drawing inspiration from sources ranging from Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy to contemporary art, Attlee is a charming and companionable guide who revels in the extraordinary embedded in the everyday. Isolarion is at once a road movie, a quixotic stand against uniformity, and a rousing hymn in praise of the complex, invigorating nature of the twenty-first-century city.
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