His father Brian taught Rory Stewart how to walk, and walked with him on journeys from Iran to Malaysia. Now they have chosen to do their final walk together along 'the Marches' – the frontier that divides their two countries, Scotland and England. Brian, a ninety-year-old former colonial official and intelligence officer, arrives in Newcastle from Scotland dressed in tartan and carrying a draft of his new book You Know More Chinese Than You Think. Rory comes from his home in the Lake District, carrying a Punjabi fighting stick which he used when walking across Afghanistan.
On their six-hundred-mile, thirty-day journey – with Rory on foot, and his father 'ambushing' him by car – the pair relive Scottish dances, reflect on Burmese honey-bears, and on the loss of human presence in the British landscape. On mountain ridges and in housing estates they uncover a forgotten country crushed between England and Scotland: the Middleland. They cross upland valleys which once held forgotten peoples and languages – still preserved in sixth-century lullabies and sixteenth-century ballads. The surreal tragedy of Hadrian's Wall forces them to re-evaluate their own experiences in the Iraq and Vietnam wars. The wild places of the uplands reveal abandoned monasteries, border castles, secret military test sites and newly created wetlands. They discover unsettling modern lives, lodged in an ancient land. Their odyssey develops into a history of nationhood, an anatomy of the landscape, a chronicle of contemporary Britain and an exuberant encounter between a father and a son.
And as the journey deepens, and the end approaches, Brian and Rory fight to match, step by step, modern voices, nationalisms and contemporary settlements to the natural beauty of the Marches, and a fierce absorption in tradition in their own unconventional lives.
Rory Stewart was born in Hong Kong in 1973. After a brief period in the Army, he joined the Foreign Office, serving in Indonesia and the Balkans. His account of the last section of his 6,000 mile walk across Afghanistan is described in The Places In Between; and his time as a deputy-governor of two provinces in Southern Iraq in Occupational Hazards. His books have sold over half a million copies, been translated into nine languages, and been awarded several prizes including the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. He is now the Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Border. He lives with his wife and young son in Cumbria and London.
"Engaging, intelligent and ultimately moving [...] in some ways, Rory Stewart resembles a Robert MacFarlane who has chosen geopolitics over metaphysics [...] Theresa May would do well to promote him."
– Scotland on Sunday
"[A] substantial and very impressive book."
– Philip Marsden, Spectator
"[A] bewitching book [...] The entrancing bond between Stewart and his father brings the book alive."
– Tristram Hunt, Sunday Times
"This is travel writing at its best."
– Katherine Norbury, Observer
"Stewart is the nearest person I have identified in real life to Rudyard Kipling's Kim, the all-seeing, all-knowing man-child of Empire [...] The heart of the book is about love [...] He is observant, gently mocking and he writes beautifully."
– Melanie Reid, The Times
"He is a gift to literature."
– Sarah Sands, Evening Standard
"[Stewart] has a roving, enquiring mind, which makes him on the page [...] most agreeable company [...] This roving, discursive book is a delight to read."
– Allan Massie, Literary Review
"The Marches is a memoir full of depth and beguiling humour [...] His prose is captivating and I hugely admired his dedication in getting to know closely the landscape and people he serves in Parliament."
– Charlotte Runice, Prospect
"The book is held together by Mr Stewart's writing, with his short chapters moving skilfully from history to personal encounter."
– Andrew Lownie, Wall Street Journal
"Stewart's descriptions are moving [...] This writer refreshes the parts that other writers cannot reach: he has the stamina and interest to investigate the hidden 'glamour' behind regions and peoples with unpromising veneers."
– Mary Killen, Lady
"The delight of it lies in his encounters with the specific rather than in ruminations about the general. He has an alert eye for the awkward detail – the things that don't quite fit with the tone of a scene. It makes him an enjoyable and persuasive writer."
– Ian Jack, Guardian
"[An] elegantly written account."
– Tom Chessyhre, The Times
"Like father, like son, for both come across as hugely talented, hugely driven misfits."
"This outstanding work might best be read as one sets out on a walk of one's own, harnessing its method as a handbook by which not only to listen but to hear, not simply to explore but to learn."
– Francis Davis, Thinking Faith
"The Marches marks him [Stewart] out not only as a writer but as a political force rooted in geographies so different to London as to shed new light on politics itself [...] [A] serious politician, social critic, and practical ethnographer at work. As such The Marches is a book for walkers, for those who love the Borders, and for fathers seeking inspiration in their family responsibilities [...] If this is the polymath as politician, then we need more of them."
– Francis Davis, Conservative Home
"This is so much more than the story of their journey – it's a superbly written, endlessly fascinating book encompassing history, geology, landscape, family memories, wars experienced and lives well lived."
– Choice Magazine