On Gallows Down

Many of you will already know Nicola Chester’s writing. If you follow her on Twitter @NicolaWriting you will see her pieces she writes as a country diarist for The Guardian, as well as her personal reflections on our local landscape and her column for Nature Notes in the Newbury Weekly News. She is also the RSPB’s longest running female columnist. When not writing she is inspiring children to read as librarian at John O’Gaunt School.

For years I have been asking how her book is going so it is very exciting that her memoir, On Gallows Down (named after Coombe Gibbet above Inkpen where she lives), is published this month.

From treetop protests at the Newbury Bypass to the grand Highclere Estate, On Gallows Downis that rare thing: nature writing as political as it is personal.

The story of a life shaped by landscape; of an enduring love of nature and the fierce desire to protect it – living as part of the rural working class in a ‘tied cottage’ on a country estate – and what it takes to feel like you belong. On Gallows Down is a book about hope. from the rewilding of Greenham Common after the missiles left to how, as a new mother, Nicola walked the chalk hills to give her children roots, teaching them names and waymarks to find their way home. It is about the songs of the nightingale and cuckoo – whose return she waits for – the red kites, fieldfares, skylarks and lapwings that accompany her, the badger cubs she watches at night and the velvety mole she finds in her garden.

And it is also the story of how Nicola came to write and to protest. It unearths the seam of resistance that ran through Newbury’s past, from the Civil Wars to the Swing Riots and the women of the Greenham Common Peace Camps and to the fight against the Newbury bypass. This is a resistance that continues today against the destruction of hedgerows, trees and wildlife through modern farm estate management.