Wild Things Publishing (2022)
Reviewed by Piers Warren
First impressions are that this is a gorgeous book with many hundreds of beautiful colour photos taken by the author Rob Wildwood. It also contains an extraordinary and unique amount of information thanks to the author’s ten year mission to document the magical sites of Britain. The result is a guide to many hidden enchanted places, where they are, what to look for and the myths and legends behind them.
Rob Wildwood is an author and folklore researcher who lives in the north of England. He is clearly an excellent photographer too and has managed to convey a huge amount of information in a clear and easy to understand way.
An astonishing 650 sites are covered in this book and there are two main ways to explore them. The most obvious is by location, useful to find out more about your local area and also to take with you on holidays and trips. The content is split into sixteen main areas of Britain, each section starting with an introduction to the region, a map, and then an entry for each magical site which describes why it has been included, the folklore and stories behind it and then GPS co-ordinates and grid references so they can be located accurately using maps and/or satnav devices.
The other way of using this book is by using categories which have been allocated to each of the entries – useful if you have a particular area of interest. For example, sites may be categorised as being known for Celtic saints and miracles, dragons, wishes and divination, healing, rituals and shrines, animate stones, portals, songlines and so on. These are depicted as symbols in each of the entries but there is also a series of pages about each category at the start of the book with a list of ‘best of’ sites especially well known for the particular myth or legend. This will no doubt prove to be of huge value to people researching or studying a particular area of interest. Most of the sites, of course, combine several of the categories, which is where the symbols come in very handy.
There are two indexes at the back of the book – one is a place name index and the other lists all the places by category. There is also a useful glossary and further reading suggestions.
This is not a book to read all the way through and then put on the bookshelf, but to keep on the coffee table or in the car for reference whenever you are visiting a new place. Reading the fascinating descriptions and looking at the wonderful photographs you can’t help but plan many trips in your mind as you flick through. Indeed you could organise many trips specifically to explore certain regions or tour sites by different categories. It shows the huge range and number of magical sites in Britain right from the tip of Cornwall to the north Scottish islands. Although there are numerous sites in every region covered, it also reveals clearly how the majority are concentrated in the west of Britain – connected with the spread of invaders from the east, after the Romans left in the 4th and early 5th centuries, and the retreat of the Celts (along with their legends and magical stories) to the west – particularly Cornwall, Devon and Wales.
I guarantee this book which teach you a lot, even about places nearby to where you live, and will have you dreaming of many trips further afield to come.