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  • Published: 15 February 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099592037
  • Imprint: Windmill Books
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $19.99

Common Ground

Immersive, evocative and powerful, Common Ground is a unique evocation of how, over the course of one year, Rob Cowen discovered a common - though extraordinary - square mile of wood, meadow, hedge and river on the edge of his northern town.



'Bold and beautiful.' Robert Macfarlane

'Sensitive, thoughtful and poetic ... leading us into a whole new way of looking at the world' Michael Palin

'Touched by genius' John Lewis-Stempel

'Absolutely mesmerizing, utterly beautiful and engrossing' Joanne Harris

After moving from London to a new home in Yorkshire, and about to become a father for the first time, Rob Cowen finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Disoriented, hemmed in by winter and yearning for open space, he ventures out to a nearby edge-land: a pylon-slung tangle of wood, hedge, field, meadow and river that lies unclaimed and overlooked on the outskirts of town.

Digging deeper into this lost landscape, he begins to uncover its many layers and lives - beast, bird, insect, plant and people - in kaleidoscopic detail. As the seasons change and the birth of his child draws closer, his transformative journey into the blurry space where human and nature meet becomes increasingly profound. In bringing this edge-land to life, Cowen offers both a both a unique portrait of people and place through time and an unforgettable exploration of the common ground we share with the natural world, the past and each other.

  • Published: 15 February 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099592037
  • Imprint: Windmill Books
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $19.99

About the author

Rob Cowen

Rob Cowen is an award-winning writer and author. His 2012 debut Skimming Stones and Other Ways of Being in the Wild won the Roger Deakin Award from the Society of Authors. His second book, Common Ground (2015), has been hailed as a seminal and genre-defying work redefining writing on people and place. Common Ground was voted third in a 2018 poll to find Britain’s favourite nature book of all time, a ‘Book of the Year’ in The Times, The Express and The Independent, and ‘Top Ten Readers’ Choice’ in The Guardian. It was also shortlisted for the Wainwright, Portico and Richard Jefferies Society prizes. Previously a nature and travel columnist at The Independent, Rob has contributed to the New York Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph and written essays and radio programmes for the BBC. His poetry and prose have featured in various journals and books. He lives in North Yorkshire.

Praise for Common Ground

Marvellously moving, this thrilling book is as big as any I know. A deep-mined and lovingly made account of survival, endurance and natural resilience in our old and broken world ... Heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Tim Dee, author of The Running Sky and Four Fields

Sensitive, thoughtful and poetic. Rob Cowen rakes over a scrap of land with forensic care, leading us into a whole new way of looking at the world.

Michael Palin

It takes a special kind of writer to make magic from the everyday. Rob Cowen has created something extraordinary; a journey into the Northern dreamtime in starkly beautiful prose. Common Ground gives us a new perspective on familiar places; makes us think again about what we think we know of our world; helps us understand the links that bind us to our landscape, and, like Blake, makes us see Heaven in a wild flower.

Joanne Harris

Formally brave, beautifully written; an intimate account of one of life's great turning points, and a luminous, painstaking exploration of place.

Melissa Harrison, author of At Hawthorn Time and Clay

Heartfelt, deep, beautiful and moving.

Tristan Gooley, The Natural Navigator

Beautiful. It's refreshing to read a piece of place-writing that digs so deeply and tenderly into a marginal landscape, and which (strikingly) does so using a novelist's tools as well as a nature writer's.

Will Atkins, author of The Moor

Highly poetic... like an archaeologist, Cowen unearths histories, natural life and decayed infrastructure in a small area bordering the River Nidd... Above all, Common Ground is about the transformative power of this unnoticed piece of land, if one can only stand and stare for long enough'

Serena Tarling, Financial Times

Boldly imaginative. This is writing of the highest order. Deep, rich and alive in prose that bubbles up from the fetid loam and, as in the work of, say, John Clare, William Wordsworth or DH Lawrence, takes pleasure in every microscopic, fecund detail. What makes this book special is the author's total immersion in his subject. [Cowen] is an outlier, a Northern voice, a set of eyes on the soil, and Common Ground is his outstanding addition to - and expansion of - the canon.

Ben Myers, Caught By the River

Blending natural history with a novelistic approach, Cowen revives his connection to the evocative, mysterious power of the natural world.

Sunday Express

When Cowen thinks of himself as an owl or a butterfly or a fox caught in a snare the book lights up... leaping over the space between animal and human as though there were no difference between us.

Kirsty Gunn, Guardian

Absolutely mesmerising, utterly beautiful, utterly engrossing - it takes a lot for a book to give me goosebumps but this one did.

Joanne Harris, Simon Mayo Drivetime BBC Radio 2

Wonderful . An eerie haunting book . rendered with hair-raising, almost hallucinogenic, lyricism. Cowen moves on through the seasons of the year and the creatures of the edge land, feeling, more than observing, how the improving circumstances of animal life mirror his own climb out of darkness.

Brian Bethune, Maclean's

Magical... Deeply original... a detailed nature study [and] a moving memoir... I became both intrigued and enchanted by this hybrid approach.

Sara Maitland, Countryfile magazine, Book of the Month

A luminous nature book

Arminta Wallace, Irish Times

Bold and beautiful.

Robert Macfarlane, New Statesman

Very beautiful indeed... [Cowen] has all the alliterative grace and fresh metaphors of a poet

Rebecca Foster, New Books

[A] poetic memoir... This apparently scrappy and overlooked piece of wasteland - a tangle of wood, meadow, field and river - proves to be, under [Cowen's] forensic and magnifying gaze, brimming with riches.

Ruth Campbell, Northern Echo

One of the most original books of 2015.

Melissa Harrison, Books of the Year, The Times

Cracking. Vividly and movingly described. Cowen writes very well.

Alan Bennett, London Review of Books

[A] multi-faceted, touched-by-genius exploration of a stretch of Harrogate wasteland.

John Lewis-Stempel, Sunday Express, Books of the Year

Marks out Cowen as a new writer who is both entertaining and significant. Cowen's descriptive writing is visceral and gripping. and his attention to colour is particularly striking.

Richard Benson, Independent

Cowen is without doubt one of our best current writers on landscape, on a par with Roger Deakin, Richard Mabey and Robert MacFarlane

Solitary Walker blog

He is engrossed by his landscape, enthralled by the minutiae and evokes the same fascination in the reader

Daily Mail

Cowen's relationship with this morsel of land is intense and honest, and described in superb prose... Not only rich and strange, but also astonishing.

Adam Thorpe, Resurgence and Ecologist

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