AD 500: a Journey Through the Dark Isles of Britain and Ireland

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
AD 500: a Journey Through the Dark Isles of Britain and Ireland

By Simon Young

Phoenix pound;7.99

Anyone who loves to hate a particular corner of these islands will warm to this witty and delightfully prejudiced guide book. Northumbrians are "a difficult and disagreeable rabble"; East Anglia has "one of the bleakest landscapes in Europe"; Powys is a "land of savages"; and London is a "wasteland". Indeed, the whole of Britain is tagged "a mad mosaic of different cultures and strains of barbarism".

This is a travelogue, not through contemporary Britain and Ireland but through the islands as they were in the so-called Dark Ages, following the Roman retreat from its colonial outpost. Its author poses as a group of highly civilised (and patronising) Greeks writing a guide for future explorers or invaders. This is a credible conceit: according to one historian of Byzantium, the Greeks may well have sent such ambassadors to Britain.

It may read like a novel, but Simon Young (an expert on Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse history) substantiates all his seeming flights of fancy with historical references. If his chosen period does not figure in every syllabus, history and geography specialists will still mine many useful nuggets from its pages and anyone tackling a project on settlements will find it invaluable.

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