Books : reviews

Dominick Tyler.
Uncommon Ground: a word-lover's guide to the British landscape.
Faber and Faber. 2015

‘Out… over the hill and then down the dip and through some lumpy bits.’

This was how Dominick Tyler used to describe the places he roamed during his childhood. Vague generalities were good enough then, but later he felt a more detailed language must exist, precisely because he needed it to do what people must have needed to do for millennia: give directions, tell a story or find a place.

And so he began collecting words for landscape features; jackstraw and zawn, clitter and cowbelly, shiwer and swag, tolmen and tor. Words that are as varied, rich and poetic as the landscapes they describe. Many of these words are falling into obscurity, some endure only by haunting place names and old maps. Here Dominick Tyler gathers them into an enchanting visual glossary of the British landscape.

Taking us from the waterlogged fens to the white sands of the Western Isles, touching on geology, literature, topography, folklore and a time when our ancestors read the lines on the land as fluently as text, this book is a rare delight.