Ancient Wonderings: Journeys into Prehistoric Britain by James Canton - review by Christine Finn

Christine Finn

Ground Force

Ancient Wonderings: Journeys into Prehistoric Britain

By

William Collins 332pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

There were times, reading James Canton’s companionable Ancient Wonderings, when I was reminded of the television programme The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s banter-filled restaurant tour. Here, for instance, are Canton and his pal Paul walking the ancient Peddars Way from Norfolk to Suffolk:

The path had forced us to walk Indian file.
‘These are spindle shrubs,’ Paul said.
‘Oh, right,’ I said.
They were certainly quite a startling sight, drooping with lurid pink colour.
‘Erm… Euonymus europaeus, I think,’ he added.
‘Impressive,’ I said.

Canton and Paul spend their time trading not local oysters but humbugs, passed ‘like a baton in a relay’. Canton proposes they imagine they are Bronze Age kinsmen, ‘just as a bit of a laugh; a way of trying to get into the mindset of those who walked this path in prehistory’. He is channelling the Amesbury Archer, the so-called ‘King of Stonehenge’, who lived in about 2300 BC and, as we later learn, was dug up under cover of darkness in 2002, courtesy of the headlights of a Peugeot 205.

The subtitle, ‘Journeys into Prehistoric Britain’, hints at an energetic probing as Canton takes various walks around Britain, seeking out traces of the ancient world, attempting to get under the skin of the past. He inhabits his terrain in the manner of a 21st-century antiquary, one foot in

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter