Mudlark River: Down the Thames with a Victorian Map by Simon Wilcox

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Mudlark River: Down the Thames with a Victorian Map by Simon Wilcox

Category: Travel
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A 19th century map inspires Simon Wilcox to walk the length of the Thames from source to mouth. The resulting mix of travelogue and anecdotal history is absorbing and beguiling. We loved this interesting and thoughtful read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 364 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Simon Wilcox
ISBN: 978-0993016301

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Do you think finding a 19th century map would inspire you to walk the entire length of the Thames? Because that's what Simon Wilcox did. I think there's something impossibly romantic about that, don't you?

The story of the walk is anchored in the story of the mapmaker, one Edward Weller. But it also looks at the history of the river and its interaction with Britons over the centuries. And, of course, it's rich with travelogue details about the author, his own life, and his experiences, thoughts and perceptions as he makes the journey. Sometimes it's a chilly and lonely trudge for Wilcox but such is his enthusiasm, you never fear that he's about to lose heart.

I loved all the choices Wilcox made for this book. Information on Edward Weller is fairly thin but Wilcox incorporates them into a wider social history of the Thames and his own experiences while walking and so the picture of the mapmaker rises from the pages in a truly fleshed-out way. And this isn't a history of the great and good. This is a history of the little people and their little - but vivid and vital - lives. I want to know about little lives, you know? They're at least as interesting as those of the great and the good.

At times, I was put in mind of my favourite scenes from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, in which she describes the business and the argot of the bargees on the Thames in Tudor England. I also thought of the delightful John Rogers - @fugueur - who posts wonderful travelogue videos of overlooked London. And, of course, it's not all London. I loved the section on Southend Pier, for example, right at the end of the journey.

The tone is great, too. Mudlark River is an interesting and absorbing read but also a relaxing one. It never gets too demanding but it's certainly never boring. The whole feel is one of a relaxing walk in an area you thought you knew but which has all sorts of new discoveries to throw at you.

I will point out that this mix of travelogue, history and anecdote won't suit the reader who is looking for a walking guide - there is no real advice on that score, nor pub recommendations and other such things those planning Thames walks might be looking for. I don't say this as a criticism at all, but just to mention that this is a book for the reader, not the walker.

I found Mudlark River to be a surprising and beguiling read. It was a welcome change of pace for me and I feel enlightened for reading it. Recommended.

You can read more about Simon Wilcox here.

Buy Mudlark River: Down the Thames with a Victorian Map by Simon Wilcox at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mudlark River: Down the Thames with a Victorian Map by Simon Wilcox at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Mudlark River: Down the Thames with a Victorian Map by Simon Wilcox at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mudlark River: Down the Thames with a Victorian Map by Simon Wilcox at Amazon.com.


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