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The Longest Crawl Paperback – 3 Jul 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (3 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747577145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747577140
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 23.3 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,466,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Marchant's comic view of boozing is a delight. -- Sunday Times

Marvellous... hugely entertaining... veined with self-deprecating humour. -- The Times

From the Author

Q&A with Ian Marchant

Why did you set out on this journey of yours? And tell us a little about your strategy to get from a) St Agnes to b) Unst?
Well, I did the journey from ignorance; from curiosity if you prefer. I just realised that pubs were so familiar that we could hardly see them anymore. Pubs are so familiar, in fact, that everyone is an expert on them. I thought of doing an appendix, called the 100 Best Pubs I’ve Never Been To But People Tell Me I Should Have. I hope that I unearthed some unfamiliar sights; not least the islands of St. Agnes and Unst, the first and last places in Britain. I regard people who go merely from Land’s End to John O’ Groats as lightweights.

Is the notion of pub "culture" a very British idea, do you think?
Very British. English, even, since pubs in Scotland are utterly different, and large parts of Wales were dry until very recently. They are also very male; some of the moral panic in the press about drinking is because women have been seen publicly drunk for the first time since the Gin Fever of the Eighteenth Century; and respectable girls don’t get falling over drunk.

Are you or were you ever tempted to jack it all in and become a landlord?
Incredibly, yes. It’s the worst gig on earth, but I still fancy a go. The pub I’d most like to run is The Baltasound Hotel, the last pub in Britain. I have a mad plan to make it lively, interesting, welcoming for locals and tourists alike; all I need is three hundred grand.

The Pub quiz forms a significant part of your affection for boozers. Explain the appeal to those not familiar with this most dynamic of pastimes.
I used to work in a bookmakers shop. My old boss said to me once that ‘there is no such thing as useless knowledge’. In order to demonstrate how facile this statement was, I asked him which racecourse was both the most southerly and westerly in Britain. He called me a word which hates women, (bookmakers shops are not terribly refined places, I’m afraid.) Fifteen years later, I’m sitting in a pub quiz, and up comes the question; ‘What is the most southerly and westerly racecourse in Britain?’ ‘Newton Abbot’, I say. The quiz was won, and my old gaffer was vindicated; there really is no such thing as useless knowledge. Pub quizzes exist in order to ensure this is true. Pub quiz is a thing of beauty. It should be in the 2012 Olympics.

Do you have a favourite pub from among the (how many was it you visited?)
We visited about 125 pubs in the month we were away,; 100 are mentioned by name in the book. My joint favourites are The Duke of York’s in Iddesleigh, Devon, and The Yorkshire House, in Lancaster.

Did you discover anything along the way that surprised you?
Everyday. That’s why we go traveling, I think. Even when we are traveling to places that have already been discovered, and on even our most everyday journeys there are surprises round every corner.

Is there a sense that pub culture is on the rise (Michelin starred pub restaurants and so on) or on the decline (meathead bouncers outside high street pubs in town centres…) or is that misunderstanding the idea of "pub culture"?
‘Pub Culture’ changes like any culture over time, and a good thing too. Its up to the participants in any culture to make sure that change is welcome and positive. The idea of Orwell’s ‘Moon Under Water’, with its heavy Victorian interior of polished mahogany and mirrors, where homely barmaids pull nut brown pints of foaming ale and serve liver sausage sandwiches has had a grip on the pub mans imagination for sixty years, and perhaps its time is passing. I think we need to make a place at the bar for the pub woman, and pub children. That’s why the book’s subtitle is ‘A Child’s Treasury of Booze.’…

How drunk did you get on the journey?
Well, the idea was to desensationalise drinking; to remind people that moderate drinking is a thing of beauty, and that alcohol, whilst a powerful drug, can be used sensibly and responsibilty….
And, er, we got very very drunk. About one night in three…

You seem to suggest that British literature is irrevocably linked to drinking culture (and vice versa). In what way?
English literature starts in a pub; The Tabard, In Southwark, from where the Canterbury Pilgrims begin their journey. Mind you, English everything probably starts in a pub. I know I did, one Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday, when my dad got my mum tiddly on Babycham…

Will you ever eat pork scratchings again?
With enormous pleasure. Despite eating three kilos in five days. Despite some of my clothes still smelling of them.

What’s next for Mr Marchant?
A pilgrimage, by electric bike. A fool’s errand.

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Booze may have given us the rolling English road - it's also given us this rollicking good read. Once again Ian Marchant sets off on adventures picaresque around the British Isles; his last book was guided by the railway network, this is driven only by the shortest journey from pub to pub and is consequently a less structured odyssey (but none the worse for that). What's becoming his trademark mix of learned erudition (mostly on alcohol related matters) and the utterly personal makes this another highly compelling, entertaining and - though I sense he'd hate anyone who said it - improving yarn. Should be hung in every pub toilet. The book, that is...
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The Humorous Travel Book, a genre fathered by Bill Bryson et al, has grown into something of a monster. Straightforward travel books, it appears, no longer sell like they used to; a dash of humour or a funny twist - pulling a dishwasher around the Hebrides, say - will open up whole new galaxies of readers.

And so I approached The Longest Crawl with trepidation. Would it perform to stereotype with quaint country taverns lining up like suitors at a debutantes' ball to get their name, location and list of amenities in print? Happily, no. Instead it provided me with four hundred or so pages of brilliantly observed detail, painstakingly researched history and geography, a cast of characters for whom the term 'colourful' was invented and a knowledgable and endlessly interesting narrative which held my attention right to the final paragraph. And yes - there was humour, lots of it.

Mr Marchant appears to have approached his trek with the sole intention to inform rather than necessarily impress. Hence we have the no-holds-barred descriptions of a Sunday night in Great Driffield, a heroic pub crawl around Leeds and a search of Glaswegian off licenses for Buckfast Abbey tonic wine ("Buckie") and its partakers. The resulting narratives are as eye opening as they are entertaining.

Great swathes of the Kingdom were bypassed in Marchant's month long journey from the Scillies to the Shetlands (no Blackpool, Newcastle or Southwold) but it is still jaw droppingly impressive that the author drank his way from one tiny island to another without, seemingly, missing any of the detail on the way.
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What a treat - a month-long pub-crawl from the most southerly to the most northerly pub in the British Isles accompanied by the kind of chap you'd be happy to bump into at the end of any bar. Marchant's book is essentially a kind of love-letter to the joys of the English pub. And a funny one at that, with some truly laugh-out-loud moments. He has a great turn-of-phrase and can segue readily betweem moments of extreme humour and more explanitory passages about the process of brewing, say, without loosing the reader's interest.

A must for anyone who's ever enjoyed a shandy or two in their local.
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This book is a fascinating combination of travelogue from the trip, cleverly combined with thoughtfully researched asides on drink and pub-related subjects. These are not just the obvious topics like the brewing process but also how pork scratchings are made, the role of monasteries in pub history, hop growing, pub rock and much more.

From his perspective as a "bald, speccy" 47-year-old, the author also poignantly intertwines the narrative with visits to pubs that have intimate connections with his eventful and varied life.

While the landscape of this country has (for the time being) statutory protection, the book makes clear that our culture is inextricably bound up with the pub and the traditional drinks consumed within. The book presents a mixed picture of the health of our national drinking culture - under siege from big business and its witless moron customers.
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Usually I avoid the "Round Uzbekistan on a Spacehopper" genre of books like the plague. The joke was funny the first time but please, no more. However I loved Merchant's previous railway book "Parallel Lines", and so this, a Boswellian mix of travelogue, philosophy, erudition and obscure facts, was a must have, and just as rewarding as the first. You can read it straight through as a guide to the British pub in its many manifestations, pick up chapters or even use it as a very, very "Rough Guide" - some to visit, many to avoid like the plague. My favourite section, on my home patch of the East Midlands, captures the lure of Burton-on-Trent even in its industrialised, homogenised current guise, argues conclusively for mass immigration on the grounds that it makes the UK population much more attractive, captures the allure of the disappearing foxhunting tradition, and for a southerner has an intuitive feel for the attractions of a day trip to Skegness - all whilst giving a running commentary on the disappearance of industrial quantities of pork scratchings, as the expedition weaves its way across the country. The current boom in ale drinking, the rise of the micro- and pop-up pub and the deluge of craft ales and microbreweries makes me yearn for another volume, or just take the tour myself.
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