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Summary

Whenever I travel somewhere else, in upland Britain, I find the hills and the horizon are leaning towards me, as if trying to cover me over; to blinker my gaze and stifle my imagination. It's always a huge relief to get back to the infinite vistas of the Fens.

The Fens is Britain's most distinctive, complex, man-made and least understood landscape. Francis Pryor has lived in, excavated, farmed, walked and loved the Fen Country for more than 40 years: its levels and drains, its soaring churches and magnificent medieval buildings. 

In The Fens, he counterpoints the history of the Fenland landscape and its transformation - the great drainage projects that created the Old and New Bedford Rivers, the Ouse Washes and Bedford Levels, the rise of prosperous towns and cities, such as King's Lynn, Cambridge, Peterborough, Boston and Lincoln - with the story of his own discovery of it as an archaeologist.

©2019 Francis Pryor (P)2019 Head of Zeus

Critic reviews

"Pryor feels the land rather than simply knowing it." (Guardian)

"Francis Pryor brings the magic of the Fens to life in a deeply personal and utterly enthralling way." (Tony Robinson)

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    2 out of 5 stars
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A very personal history

This is more a history of how the author found out about the history of the fens, than of the fens themselves. Fine if you like your history peppered with personal anecdotes, but rather annoying if you don’t. A hint of the writer’s character is given when he explains with some pride how he drove his unroadworthy car in the middle of fen roads just to annoy other drivers in more modern cars. After hearing for the twentieth time that he liked beer, and that this was typical of all archaeologists (surely a hard to justify generalisation?), I rather lost the will to to go on. I handed the book back – only the third time I’ve done so in buying over 250 books.

6 people found this helpful

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There was nothing not to like

I have lived in the fens all my life, I am from two families of true Fen People, I have links to the first Dean of Ely Cathedral, so I had high hopes for this book. The first chapter the author talked of Ely Cathedral and my heart lifted, I read some details about the book before buying it and had high hopes. However, there is very little in fact about Ely or that area. This book very much centres around Peterborough and the authors digs. Disappointment aside, I enjoyed the book, I liked learning about the history of the fens even if it was not the area I had hoped. I love the way the author sees places such as Kings Lynn, he describes it as I see it, I love the place most do not. In a way I wish he had spoken a bit more about places such as kings Lynn, Ely, Wisbech he is so informative when he does. There is a chapter entitled Devils Dyke, I was looking forward to that but it was hardly mentioned. If you like to know about history of the fens, around Peterborough and the edge of Lincoln then this is really what this book is about. It is about the past, about the authors digs mainly. The author is very knowledgeable, but does repeat himself a great deal,the book reads like it was not proof read. I learned a great deal I did not know, and I do not regret reading it. Currently I live in Spain and this book did make me miss my homeland. I would recommend it with the above notes, its not what I had hoped for.

6 people found this helpful

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  • C
  • 05-03-20

Fantastic book

Really interesting book covering landscape, archaeology, history and a little bit of autobiography. It’s left me with a real desire to visit the Fens.

1 person found this helpful

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An insight into an often overlooked landscape

Really enjoyed The Fens. Gleaned valuable information on the Bronze and Iron Age environment. Highly recommended.

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Entrancing

I was familiar with Francis Pryor through his TV work but woefully ignorant of his background. This beautifully read book lays bare his deep roots with the Fens, it’s archaeology, and the people of Fenland. As you would expect the archaeology forms a large part of the book but it is far more than that. I found the changing attitudes to the Fenlands over history fascinating, how attempts at changing it have led to what we see today. It is one area of the UK that I am completely unfamiliar with but this book guarantees that situation won’t last for much longer.

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Amazing how interesting the Fens really are.

I've long known of Francis Pryor as an archaeologist but did not know how passionate he is about the Fens until I listened to this book, read by the author himself. He has a rather avuncular voice which draws the listener in, allaying any fear of the book being as dry as the drained fen fields. He is amusing as well as informative with a knowledge of his subject, second to none. The occasional slip made me smile, such as "as the flow cries" - possibly left for that very reason. I took my time "reading" this to take in the many interesting facts and anecdotes. Being a lifelong native of the area around the Lincolnshire fens, and having lived and worked in Peterborough for most of my working life, I know the places he talks about, however I find I only knew a fraction of the history of the land I have taken for granted. I can highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in learning how fascinating the Fens can be, certainly not "flat and boring" as I have heard them often described. There is a depth and sincerity here, and I found the ending very thought-provoking. I'll be dipping into this again, if not the entire book, many times. In fact, it has inspired me to buy the hard copy as well.

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Wonderful

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book. Having grown up in an around the Fens myself, there are so many things mentioned that I could relate to. But I was unaware of the archeological history of the area, and this book presents it in a very interesting and understandable way. It has opened my eyes to things in way I didn’t think was possible, hence my title of wonderful.

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The Fens

A very informative, comfortable journey through an area of national historic significance, which Pryor knows in the kind of way that can only stem from a lifetime of work, exploration and intrigue. Highly recommended.

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  • John W Lindsay
  • 28-12-20

Tells a story like you are in the room

Francis Pryor tells a story about mud and rotten wood and dead grass like it’s the most exciting thing in the world. I’ve loved all of his books. Him narrating is a plus.