Jonathan Cape, £12.99, 266pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Edgelands: Journeys Into England's True Wilderness, By Paul Farley and Michael Symmons

Somehow we know immediately the meaning of "edgelands". The word evokes zones where overspill housing estates peter out or factories give way to black fields or scrubland; where unkempt areas become home to allotments, mobile-phone masts, sewage works, cooling towers, dens, places of forgetting, dumping and landfill. This territory had no signifier until the geographer Marion Shoard invented the term "edgelands".

In this book it is made to challenge the conventional duality of urban and rural, most noticeable in landscape writing. For edgelands can be found in many places, inside as well as outside our cities; even, as is here suggested, in the verges and central divide of a motorway. We may drive past such places, or through them, in the security and warmth of an airtight car, but they get to us; they have "edge" and seem to challenge the way we live. This book's authors astutely observe that "Beneath all our worldly dealing, all our getting and spending, run deep, unspoken channels, drumlins of guilt."

Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts are award-winning poets. They began gathering material on this subject long before the intention to write this book took hold. They are aficionados, not tourists in these edgelands, bringing childhood experience as well as adult knowledge to many aspects of this domain, be it canals and bridges, tree houses or retail parks.

They are slightly sniffy of psychogeographers who use a walk as a loose narrative device for some flâneurisms. And unlike WG Sebald, whom Richard Mabey recently criticised for being ecologically unsound in his description of the Suffolk coast and for failing to respect its "otherness", Farley and Symmons Roberts repeatedly snag on exacting detail, such as the red plastic milk crate in a pond. They acknowledge that ponds like these, with its sunken car and unknowable depths, claim the lives of children, but they briskly resist melancholy.

Edgelands may be the domain of the feral, popular with children and lawbreakers, but they are also, the authors claim, places of "possibility, mystery and beauty". As readers we are invited, not to follow a chain of associations, but to stay and look.

This intention to let the terrain speak for itself is welcome. It avoids the tendency to see it as a bleak backdrop to economic, social and political woes. Instead, these unwatched places are shown on the move, prone to sudden changes, subject to negotiation and re-negotiation. The more these two poets travelled about this landscape, the more they admired it.

They identify the buddleia as a significant edgelands' marker, self-seeded, unchecked and on open wastelands offering large stretches of purple. This colour, they suggest, is the perfect complement to the other dominant edgelands tone, the deep red-brown colour of rust. We read how during a recession, if cleared terrain is left unmanaged, further colours appear with rye grass, ragwort, rosebay willowherb, knotgrass, white clover and dandelions. If the wasteland is left still longer, scrub woodland starts to grow. Variations in temperature, soil and human use affect this mixture of indigenous and invasive species, creating a local identity far removed from the creeping homogeneity of the high street.

Farley and Symmons Roberts have chosen to sink their individualities into a single voice. This works well and its conversational tone buttonholes the reader; it is wise, pointed and unfussed. There are sudden riffs on aspects of modern life; on what is done to cars in the edgelands (re-sprayed, re-tyred, re-tuned, or stripped and crushed); on maps, satnav and collisions between communication satellites. We arrive at the curious irony that our reliance on satnav may be causing a "demolition derby" in the sky, where no one understands the rules of the road and everything is travelling very fast.

Much journeying informs this book. It takes us to many parts of England, though there is a strong connection with the North-West. Each chapter is labelled with a single word – Cars, Paths, Dens, Containers, and so on, ending with Airports, Weather and Piers. The observation remains sharp and wry, spiced by outlandish knowledge and well-chosen quotations.

But Farley and Symmons Roberts are not only a reader's tonic; they also shake up our lazy perceptions of an aspect of England that seemed familiar, but remained under-observed and poorly understood. Whether or not these edgelands are "England's true wilderness", they will gain imaginative significance as a result of this gem of a book.

Frances Spalding's 'John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: lives in art' is published by Oxford

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine