We look at this passionate book by Nicola Chester about her formative and later experiences in the UK environmental protest ecosystem. On Gallows Down, Place, Protest and Belonging is available from Chelsea Green publishing here, (Shortlisted for the James Copper Wainwright Prize 2022 for Nature Writing – Highly Commended).
On Gallows Down Place, Protest and Belonging, reviewed
Narratives like this are important, even when the details of what happened are sometimes negative and dispiriting. As someone involved in the Greenham Common protests in the 1980s it may have felt for the author, and her fellow protestors that they were not achieving their goals. Until, over a decade later, they did, and the US left, and the commons were returned to unfenced and unchained lands. Therefore sometimes the time frame and the perspective can require years or even decades before positive change is achieved.
Similarly Nicola Chester was also involved in the Twyford Downs and Newbury bypass protests. Again these could be considered, in one light to have been successful as, ultimately, the protestors were evicted and the proposed roads got built. And yet, and yet, it did raise awareness on a much wider scale both nationally and even globally. The soaring security and policing costs also ensured there were far less funds available after those hugely expensive projects to build other proposed roads in the UK.
With over a decade of less than attentive Conservative rule towards green issues, it could argued that these are still tough times for environmentalists and the health of the planet itself. Nicola Chester’s memoir does not sugar coat these issues, but it does make for an informative and thought provoking read.
I learnt to love nature early, but soon learnt it could be taken from me, from others. This is a personal story of how to engage, & how to resist the loss of it. Honoured. https://t.co/TABxxNGXIE
— Nicola Chester (@nicolawriting) August 11, 2022
More about this book
***Shortlisted for the James Copper Wainwright Prize 2022 for Nature Writing – Highly Commended***
***WINNER of the Richard Jefferies Award 2021 for Best Nature Writing!***
“It’s ever so good. Political, passionate and personal.”—Robert Macfarlane (via Twitter), author of Underland
Part nature writing, part memoir, On Gallows Down is an essential, unforgettable read for fans of Helen Macdonald, Terry Tempest Williams, and Robin Wall Kimmerer.
“I couldn’t put it down! A must read!”—Dara McAnulty (via Twitter), author of Diary of a Young Naturalist
On Gallows Down is a powerful, personal story shaped by a landscape; one that ripples and undulates with protest, change, hope—and the search for home.
From the girl catching the eye of the “peace women” of Greenham Common to the young woman protesting the loss of ancient and beloved trees, and as a mother raising a family in a farm cottage in the shadow of grand, country estates, this is the story of how Nicola Chester came to write—as a means of protest.
The story of how she discovered the rich seam of resistance that runs through her village of Newbury and its people—from the English Civil War to the Swing Riots and the battle against the Newbury bypass. And the story of the hope she finds in the rewilding of Greenham Common after the military left, the stories told by the landscapes of Watership Down, Hampshire, the gallows perched high on Inkpen Beacon and Highclere Castle (the setting of Downtown Abbey).
Nature is indelibly linked to belonging for Nicola. She charts her story through the walks she takes with her children across the chalk hills of the North Wessex Downs, through the song of the nightingale and the red kites, fieldfares, skylarks, and lapwings that accompany her; the badger cubs she watches at night; the velvety mole she discovers in her garden; and the cuckoo whose return she awaits.
On Gallows Down tells of how Nicola came to realize that it is she who can decide where she belongs, for home is a place in nature and imagination, which must be protected through words and actions.
“We are writing for our very lives and for those wild lives we share this one, lonely planet with.”—Nicola Chester
BBC Countryfile Magazine’s “Best Nature and Countryside Books of 2021.”
More about the author
About Nicola Chester
Nicola Chester’s clarion call to nature conservation was first recognised when she won the BBC Wildlife Magazine’s Nature Writer of the Year Award in 2003. She has written a regular column for the RSPB members’ magazine, Nature’s Home, for over fifteen years. She is a Guardian Country Diarist and wrote the first book in the RSPB’s Spotlight series on iconic British wildlife, Otters.
Her writing features in several anthologies, including all four Seasons books, edited by Melissa Harrison, the new Red Sixty Seven book and Women on Nature, edited by Katharine Norbury.
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