ON THE MARSHES
CAROL DONALDSON LITTLE TOLLER, £15, HB
Embarking on a restorative quest following a misfortune is a familiar subject for countryside writing. But Donaldson makes a delightful and refreshingly unconventional guide – she’s a working-class Essex girl who has faith, packs lippy in her rucksack and is petrified of daddy longlegs. Following an eviction and painful break-up, she quits her RSPB job to walk through her adopted North Kent Marshes, one of the most windswept, isolated and (Whitstable aside) unfashionable stretches of coast in England. It’s a backwater of floods and foghorns, creeks and cranes, power stations and prisons, where industry rubs shoulders with wetland nature reserves and barely profitable farming.
The walking becomes a form of pilgrimage and as Donaldson traverses the Hoo Peninsula, Medway estuary and Isle of Sheppey, she encounters an extraordinary collection of fellow non-conformists eking out a living in old houseboats, caravans, buses and cabins. She expertly recounts the challenges and rewards of their alternative, low-impact lifestyles, but finds that the relentless march of money and ‘progress’ is putting their futures at risk. Her beloved waterland on the fringes of London is threatened by everything from proposed island airports to developments of chic waterside apartments, and you wonder how much longer it can survive. Ben Hoare, BBC Wildlife
Sunrise over Kingsnorth power station and a derelict boat on the Isle of Grain on the Hoo peninsula. Carol Donaldson explores these waterlands in On the Marshes