Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Fabled Coast - Sophia Kingshill and Jennifer Westwood

Reader, I bought the gin. Specifically the Tanqueray Lovage gin I mentioned yesterday. It felt a bit weird to be going to John Lewis to buy gin (though it's not the first time I've done it). Their drinks section comes under gifts and is an odd mix of stuff, but the gin selection has some gems in it. Also looking good was a limited edition Edinburgh gin that celebrates the botanic gardens  - but one new bottle of gin a day is probably enough.

Both bottles would have looked equally attractive with the book that's been keeping me company recently, but Tanqueray is a gin distiller I have a particular fondness for, so it was an easy choice. The book is 'The Fabled Coast' which I bought last year on a bitterly cold, but beautiful day in Ullapool. Ullapool is an end of the road sort of place with 2 very nice little bookshops (and several other desirable amenities) I thoroughly recommend a visit.

I'd had this book on a wish list since reading Sophia Kingshill's monograph on Mermaids published by Little Toller. It was a nice thing to find on a generally perfect day out, and has turned out to be even better than I hoped.

It's a collection of legends and traditions from the coastline of Britain and Ireland. Some of the stories are true - a giant squid thought to be a kraken that washed up on a Shetland beach, a whale in the Thames (thought of as an omen of Cromwell's death) and so on. Others are more fanciful - dealings with the devil and other supernatural creatures. There's also lots of bits about pirates. All of it is fascinating.

The chapters are broken down into stretches of coastline, each entry is short - sometimes only a paragraph, never more than a couple of pages, and the whole thing is scholarly without being dry. I would have loved this book as a child too (pity the parent who might have had to listen to me read out various entries on a long car journey). As it is I'm very pleased to have it now. It's a potentially useful reference book, and a brilliant thing to dip in and out of if you only have a few minutes reading time - although minutes can stretch into hours quite easily as you follow story to story.

Kingshill and Westwood also wrote 'The Lore of Scotland' which now looks like a must buy, and I see that Sophia Kingshill has written a young adult book 'Between the Raven and the Dove' about witchcraft.  It's heroine is a 13 year old girl so I might find it more young than adult, but I'm tempted anyway just to see what Kingshill is like when she's writing fiction, because if it's half as good as her non fiction it'll be a treat.


  1. Unlike you, I've only had a browse through this so far, but recently got this book and it looks utterly fascinating! I'm glad to know it's so good, it's setting directly on top of one about histories and legends of old smugglers. I do have 'The Lore of Scotland' too, another one to delve into, and the massive tome 'The Lore of The Land' which you would need to get as well while your at it.

  2. You're right, I clearly do need 'The Lore of the Land' too. Beats me why they all seem to be out of print.