Cover image for The debatable land : the lost world between Scotland and England / Graham Robb.
The debatable land : the lost world between Scotland and England / Graham Robb.
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Physical Description:
x, 334 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 25 cm
Hidden places -- Outpost -- Panic button -- The true and ancient border -- "The sewer of abandoned men" -- Mouldywarp -- Beachcombing -- Blind roads -- Harrowed -- "Loveable custumis" -- Accelerated transhumance -- Skurrlywarble -- Exploratores -- Windy edge -- "In tymes bigane" -- "Stob and staik" -- "Rube, burne, spoyll, slaye, murder annd destrewe" -- The final partition -- Hector of ye Harlawe -- Scrope -- Tarras Moss -- "A factious and naughty people" -- Silence -- Graticules -- The Kingdom of Selgovia -- "Arthur" -- The great Caledonian invasion -- Polling stations -- No man's land -- The river.
Explores the history of the Debatable Land, the former buffer between Scotland and England and once upon a time the bloodiest region in the country.
Subject Term:


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
941.37 ROB Book Adult General Collection

On Order



Two years ago, Graham Robb moved to a lonely house on the very edge of England, near the banks of a river that once marked the southern boundary of the legendary Debatable Land. The oldest detectable territorial division in Great Britain, the Debatable Land served as a buffer between Scotland and England. It was once the bloodiest region in the country, fought over by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James V. After most of its population was slaughtered or deported, it became the last part of Great Britain to be brought under the control of the state. Today, it has vanished from the map and its boundaries are matters of myth and generational memories.Under the spell of a powerful curiosity, Robb began a journey--on foot, by bicycle, and into the past--that would uncover lost towns and roads, and unlock more than one discovery of major historical significance. These personal and scholarly adventures reveal a tale that spans Roman, Medieval, and present-day Britain.Rich in detail and epic in scope, The Debatable Land takes us from a time when neither England nor Scotland existed to the present day, when contemporary nationalism and political turmoil threaten to unsettle the cross-border community once more. With his customary charm, wit, and literary grace, Graham Robb proves the Debatable Land to be a crucial, missing piece in the puzzle of British history.

Author Notes

Graham Robb's two previous books, "Victor Hugo" & "Balzac," were "New York Times" Notable Books. He lives in Oxford, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Robb's move to the singular "Debatable Land" on the border of present-day England and Scotland inspired this combination bicycle travelogue, regional history, and declaration of admiration. Covering 33,000 acres on either side of the Scottish-English border, this uninhabited middle ground originally, in ancient times, served as communal ("bateable") livestock pastures, Robb (The Discovery of Middle Earth) explains, preserving a historically delicate balance in a region where family loyalty rules and accents vary significantly over a few miles. Later, a core group of families, like the Armstrongs and Nixons, made up the "reivers," who made their living stealing livestock and household goods, leaving burned houses in their wake and introducing the words "blackmail" and "bereaved" into English. Robb's passion for cycling and amiable persona provide him with a ground-level view, allowing him to observe how the reality of life in the borderlands differs from the myths, such as the inaccurate story that blames a curved ditch obstacle on "Anglo-Scottish strife." Focusing on this one remarkable region, Robb's two-wheeled perspective and highly observant eye allow him to ruminate through the Celtic, medieval, and present eras with ease; readers are lucky to join him on his enthralling journey. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

In late 2010, Robb (The Ancient Paths) and his wife, Margaret Hambrick, moved to a remote part of northwest England, close to the Scottish border. Their new house was situated near a river that once formed the southern boundary of the Debatable Land, an area that historically acted as a buffer between England and Scotland, belonging to neither country. The area was renowned for the legendary, lawless Border reivers: the families whose marauders regularly conducted raids on either side of the Anglo-Scottish border in the 16th century. But who or what came before this history? Enchanted, Robb sets out to learn more, cycling throughout the Debatable Land and searching local archives. He discovers contradictions: while the Anglo-Scottish border had a reputation for lawlessness, the Debatable Land was actually governed by a " system" with a recognizable civil and criminal code. Recalculating the graticules of Ptolemy's early map helps Robb to uncover ancient, long-lost places, which leads him to suggest that the origins of the Debatable Land lie in Roman Britain. VERDICT With imagination and wit, Robb cogently brings the history of the region into sharp focus, satisfying all interested in British and Scottish history.-Penelope J.M. Klein, Fayetteville, NY © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
List of Figuresp. xi
A Guide to Pronunciationp. xiii
Part 1
1 Hidden Placesp. 3
2 Outpostp. 6
3 Panic Buttonp. 16
4 The True and Ancient Borderp. 21
5 'The Sewer of Abandoned Men'p. 27
6 Mouldywarpp. 38
7 Beachcombingp. 43
Part 2
8 Blind Roadsp. 51
9 Harrowedp. 61
10 'Loveable Custumis'p. 67
11 Accelerated Transhumancep. 76
12 Skurrlywarblep. 82
13 Exploratoresp. 89
14 Windy Edgep. 97
15 'In Tymis Bigane'p. 106
Part 3
16 'Stob and Staik'p. 115
17 'Rube, Burne, Spoyll, Slaye, Murder annd Destrewe'p. 125
18 The Final Partitionp. 133
19 Hector of ye Harlawep. 140
20 Scropep. 150
21 Tarras Mossp. 160
22 'A Factious and Naughty People'p. 168
23 Silencep. 181
Part 4
24 Graticulesp. 187
25 The Kingdom of Selgoviap. 198
26 'Arthur'p. 205
27 The Great Caledonian Invasionp. 216
28 Polling Stationsp. 226
29 No Man's Landp. 232
30 The Riverp. 237
Appendixp. 241
Chronologyp. 265
Notesp. 271
Works Citedp. 299
General Indexp. 317
Geographical Indexp. 325
Acknowledgementsp. 333