There are travel books, and then there are travel books!

While Rory Stewart would take umbrage at someone calling him a “travel writer”, that is what he is, if understood as someone who writes about people as much as he writes about places.

While not as seasoned a traveler as his father, who spent his career as a British intelligence officer roaming the world – my cousin knew him in Hong Kong – , and who shares the spotlight with his son in this book, his stints in Afghanistan and Iraq merited two delightful books on each of those complex countries and the equally complex tribal systems which comprise them.

Here, we are dealing with a slightly different take on a travel book, as the author and his father traipse across northern England and southern Scotland, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, over a distance of less than a hundred miles. The father was then close to ninety years of age, and probably spent less time walking than sharing thoughts on a multitude of subjects, including his work as a spy, over a cup of tea after yet another rain-soaked outing. He died before the book was published.

There is lots of history here, often of the ancient variety, as we are taken through Roman, Celtic, Viking and more recent eras, as Scots and Englishmen fought for centuries over a relatively small frontier zone called the Marches, over which the author travels, stopping often to meet local people and learn what he can about events since the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, most of which is no longer recognizable, unlike its Chinese equivalent.

Rory Stewart, The Marches, Mariner