There are some books which are designed as a celebration of the spirit of a place, and others which inspire the reader to explore the locales so carefully evoked within. The AA Book of Britain's Countryside
functions on both levels: it is a sumptuous feast of imagery carrying us through the breathtaking beauty of such places as Loch Lomond and the Lake District with photographs that perfectly capture the natural splendours. But a greater part of this handsome book's charm is its careful dovetailing of all the elements that constitute a particular place. The Isle of Man, for instance, is conjured for the reader by a moody picture of Maughold Head by the Irish Sea, the flight of a bird (the water rail, with its long trailing legs), the striking yellow iris (widespread throughout the area), a highlighted map and even a terrifying-looking basking shark--all this within two pages, accompanied by economical but intelligent text. This approach is applied with equal success throughout the book: the autumn colours of the mountains of Snowdonia are reflected in the purple waters of Llyn Padarn, while an inset photo shows an alert Goosander guarding its chicks. And a sidebar reminds us that this is a book designed to make us keen to discover these beauties for ourselves-we are told to also look out for foxes, polecat, grey heron, bilberries, marsh pennyworts and many more local plants and animals.
Of course, the size and weight of the book precludes its use while actually investigating the splendours of the British countryside (few rucksacks could accommodate this weighty volume), but many a pleasurable night may be spent poring over its pages, notebook in hand, while field trips are planned. In this regard, the detailed final sections identifying wildlife and plants are particularly useful. In fact, so comprehensive is this latter section that many a publisher would have transmuted these colourfully illustrated sections into an entire book. Here they are a welcome adjunct to a book designed to both please and instruct. --Barry Forshaw