Books : reviews

Richard Muir.
Riddles in the British Landscape.
Thames & Hudson. 1981

Here is the story of the vanishing of the wildwood, the ancient forest, and the wild beasts that disappeared with it; of the imposing hillforts and the causewayed camps that girdle many British hilltops; of the mysterious brochs and vitrified forts of Scotland and the unbroken code of the Pictish symbol stones. Here we can see hill figures, chalk-cut giants blazing white in the summer sun against the green and blue backdrop of pasture and sky; prehistoric stone circles – most widely known and most often visited of all prehistoric monuments – and the remarkable tombs of the megalithic builders. And here is the evidence of the homes in which ancient man lived; of how and when pagan inhabitants of the British Isles became Christian; of the spider’s web of ancient boundaries, astonishingly durable manifestations of man dividing himself from man.

The peoples of the British Isles live in a landscape which is perhaps unrivalled in its beauty and in its scenic diversity, and which contains an equally rich and varied heritage of ancient monuments. Richard Muir’s riddles are riddles about people and the different ways in which they viewed their world; they provide portholes to the past, intimate introductions to long-forgotten ways of life, systems of belief and day-to-day problems.

But you will not find here secret messages in the landscape with no existence outside the imagination of their discoverers; the findings of Richard Muir’s guided tour of the British past are all the more intriguing for their concentration on the evidence. And while you may join him from your armchair in his compellingly illustrated survey, you may also take to the road, guided by the detailed gazetteer of sites covering the country which accompanies each of his chapters.

Richard Muir.
Be Your Own Landscape Detective: investigating where you are.
Sutton. 2007