Rachel Hewitt

Digging Up The Past

The Making of the British Landscape: How We Have Transformed the Land, from Prehistory to Today

By

Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 812pp £30 order from our bookshop

Towards the end of his enormous history of the human impact on Britain’s landscape, Francis Pryor recalls getting caught in the Great Storm of 1987 while driving across the Fens in his Land Rover. After battling the winds that whip across that region with ferocity even on milder days, Pryor retreated into a ‘reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse’ at Flag Fen, the Archaeological Park near Peterborough. Pryor describes how, while standing at the door of the roundhouse, ‘sipping a mug of warm tea from my flask’, he ‘was astonished by the peace and tranquillity of the place. Nothing was moving and the entire structure was stable. Its conical roof and round walls were spilling the gale.’ But outside, in the twentieth century, all hell was breaking loose. ‘Steel sheets of wall cladding blew down the Bronze Age droveway from the nearby industrial estate, like so many vast and luridly coloured autumn leaves. This made me think’, Pryor reflects, ‘that all of our much-vaunted “progress” of late has actually been in the wrong direction.’

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