On Gallows Down


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.

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Shortlisted for the James Cropper Wainwright Prize 2022 for Nature Writing – Highly Commended

Winner for the Richard Jefferies Award 2021 for Best Nature Writing

‘A rural, working-class writer in an all too rarefied field, Chester’s work is unusual for depicting the countryside as it is lived on the economic margins.’ The Guardian

‘An important portrait of connection to the land beyond ownership or possession.’ Raynor Winn

‘It’s ever so good. Political, passionate and personal.’ Robert Macfarlane

‘Evocative and inspiring?environmental protest, family, motherhood and?nature.’ Claire Fuller, author of Unsettled Ground, Costa Novel Award Winner 2021

Nature is everything. It is the place I come from and the place I got to. It is family. Wherever I am, it is home and away, an escape, a bolt hole, a reason, a place to fight for, a consolation, and a way home.

As a child growing up in rural England, Guardian Country Diarist Nicola Chester was inexorably drawn to the natural landscape surrounding her. Walking, listening and breathing in the nature around her, she followed the call of the cuckoo, the song of the nightingale and watched as red kites, fieldfares and skylarks soared through the endless skies over the chalk hills of the North Wessex Downs: the ancient land of Greenham Common which she called home.

Nicola bears witness to, and fights against, the stark political and environmental changes imposed on the land she loves, whilst raising her family to appreciate nature and to feel like they belong – core parts of who Nicola is. From protesting the loss of ancient trees to the rewilding of Greenham Common, to the gibbet on Gallows Down and living in the shadow of Highclere Castle (made famous in Downton Abbey), On Gallows Down shows how one woman made sense of her world – and found her place in it.

Additional information

Weight 0.567 kg
Dimensions 19.7 × 12.7 × 3.2 cm