4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
When you think of the Cornish coast, images of sandy beaches being pounded with surf that has crossed the Atlantic spring to mind. Or secluded bays that have echoes of smugglers on the or dramatic cliffs still standing tall against the waves. Helford River on the east-facing coast of the Lizard peninsular is very different, strictly it is a tidal inlet, rather than a beach, but what lines it is ancient oak woodland, giving it an otherworldly feel.
The whole area was a much-loved spot for Oliver Rackham, and this book published after his death from his draft manuscript is his eulogy to the place. There are twenty-five woods in the area that have wonderful and evocative names, such as Merthen, Grambla, Tremayne and Bonallack. A lot of these are classified as ancient, but they all have a long history of human activity and use.
Each chapter concentrates on a particular element, for example, ecology, archaeology and a detailed look at each individual woodland with notes on the exact makeup with respect to the trees and vegetation growing there. He walked through all the woods seeking the coppice stools that reveal so much about the use and age of the wood, follows holloways from the fields down to the quays, finds the charcoal heaths that provided fuel for the tin industry and discovers the internal boundaries of the woods when they were under different ownership.
The book is full of images of the woodlands, from inside and along the shoreline where oaks that reach out from the shore and dip their boughs in the water. For the map addicts out there, it is packed with both recent and Victorian maps and details of places that have changed little since the Norman arrived. It is a fascinating book, full of two of my favourite things, sea and woodlands. The editorial team have done a great job of making the book from the draft manuscript by Rackham and is full of the detail that I’ve come to expect from him.