Book review: ‘In Pursuit of Spring’ by Edward Thomas

Cycling across southern England in early 1913.

In Pursuit of Spring

In Britain, thanks to the prevailing winds and our general north-south geography, Spring tends to arrive in the South West, spreading at a walking pace, in a generally north-easterly direction, up through our island.

In 1913, Edward Thomas decided to meet Spring head-on by bicycling west from London towards the Somerset coast. His account of the journey, In Pursuit of Spring is regarded as something of a nature-writing classic. Sadly, Thomas was to die a few years later, in 1917, at the Battle of Arras.

Although I very much enjoyed the idea of this book, and some of the writing, I have to say I found it rather heavy-going and plashy fennish in places. Thomas has a habit of going into way too much detail, turning right here, and south half a mile there. Before he set out, he already had a commission for an account of his journey. As I read on, I rather unkindly began to suspect he was trying to meet a contractual word-count.

To get a feel for his writing style, here is a sample paragraph chosen (almost) at random:

Uphill to Alderbury I walked, looking back south-eastward along the four-mile wall of Dean Hill which I had quitted a mile behind. Alderbury, its Green Dragon, its public seat and foursquare fountain of good water for man and beast (erected by Jacob, sixth Earl of Radnor), is on a hilltop overlooking the Avon, and immediately on leaving it I began to descend and to slant nearer and nearer the river. The hedges of the road guided my eyes straight to the cathedral spire of Salisbury, two or three miles off beneath me. On the right the sward and oaks of Ivychurch came down to the road: below on the left the sward was wider, the oaks were fewer, and many cows were feeding. A long cleft of rushy turf and oaks, then a broad ploughland succeeded the Ivychurch oaks, and the ploughland rose up into a round summit crested by a clump of pines and beeches. I remember seeing this field when it was being ploughed. by two horses, and the ploughman’s white dog was exploring on one side or another across the slopes.

…If you’re into this style of writing, there is much in this book for you to enjoy.

The edition I read was from the wonderful publisher Little Toller. As always with them, it is beautifully produced, and a delight to handle. It is also illustrated with photographs taken by Thomas during his journey. The photographs are wonderful, illustrating many former corners of a, now, very changed England.

  • Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com (for which I receive a small commission)
  • …or, better still, buy or order a copy from your local, tax-paying independent bookshop, who could really do with the help.

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