4 out of 5 stars

Despite the recent shenanigans about our relationship with Europe, if you were to go back about 7000 years ago, you’d find that we were physically connected to the continent. This connection point was where the North Sea is now. We know that there were people and animals there because of the number of bones and other artefacts that keep being bought to the surface by trawlers. This land has a name too now, Doggerland.

For lots of people, the past has a lot of allure, there are stories to be told from the things that we find and tales from bumps in a field. Julia Blackburn is one of those who seeks out objects that can speak to her across the bridge of time. She has amassed more and more things but didn’t really feel that she knew much about this land just below the sea. Her curiosity would take her back and forth across this shallow sea and far back in time to the people that inhabited this landscape. She gets to see footprints from humans that had been fossilised in mud and silt, hold flint arrowheads that were last used  a millennia ago, discover the traces of plants that must have come across on the land bridge and even get to see those that have been preserved in the acid waters of the bogs that surround the North Sea.

This fascination, or almost borderline obsession with the past, stemmed from Blackburn’s desire to collect and hold objects from history. The paths she takes as she walks back in time are sometimes walked alone and sometimes with others there to guide her to the wider view or the minutia of the items she is looking at. Entwined with the history and archaeology is her very personal journey as she reminisces about her late husband, the artist Herman Makkink. This the second of Blackburn’s book that I have read now, the other was Thin Paths which I really enjoyed. She is such an evocative and beautiful writer and this has an intensity that makes you think of elements of it long after you have set it aside. I loved the art that was included from Enrique Brinkman, but personally wasn’t that keen on the Time Songs. However, they added a pause to the intensity of the writing. Can highly recommend this.

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