Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane, abridged by Penny Leicester

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Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane, abridged by Penny Leicester. Prod. Duncan Minshull. Perf. Tobias Menzies, Macfarlane. BBC Radio 4, 30 March - 3 April 2015. BBCiPlayer

Travel books with the United Kingdom as their principal subject come thick and fast on the ground. Often they tell us more about the writers' preoccupations, as much as the people and situations they encounter: J. B. Priestley's immortal "English Journey," undertaken at the height of the Great Depression, reveals the author's enduring concern for social equality, something that clearly did not exist at a time when many northern cities were poverty-stricken while the government, safely confined to London, did very little to alleviate their plight. Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island," on the other hand, gains much of its comic effect from the cultural clash between the American author and the oh-so-British people and/or traditions he encounters; sometimes he finds it difficult to make sense of what he sees.

"Landmarks" is a different kind of tale in which author Robert Macfarlane visits different areas to discover the people, traditions, and most importantly the words that help construct their identities. The narrative is full of vivid descriptive phrases, revealing the author's talent to express immediate feelings in verbal form; at the same time, he takes an anthropologist's pleasure in collecting the archaic words and listing them. At the end of each of the five episodes, after Tobias Menzies had finished his narrative, Macfarlane gave a list of the words employed in each one, together with their meanings.

In different authorial hands, "Landmarks" could have become another version of "Notes from a Small Island," with the author admiring the eccentricities of locals who continue to employ archaic or little-known words, even while talking to strangers. Duncan Minshull's production left us with a different impression; that local identities are significant even in an age of increasing globalization, and people want to preserve them. Hence they use dialect to keep out potential interlopers such as Macfarlane himself.