BBC's Countryfile comes to Bilton to film author Rob

A Harrogate author who unexpectedly put Bilton on the map last year with a bestselling book is about to do the same this weekend on TV in front of millions of viewers.

Harrogate author Rob Cowen at Nidd Gorge.
Harrogate author Rob Cowen at Nidd Gorge.

With the paperback version of Common Ground set for publication shortly, writer Rob Cowen is to get pride of place on BBC TV’s popular Countryfile show this Sunday night.

After winning celebrity backing and rave reviews for his highly-acclaimed nature book cum history cum personal memoir, the BBC sent a film crew to Bilton to interview Rob in person at the little-known patch of land which inspired it.

Rob said: “It’s very pleasing that the book has had such great reviews and it was nice to see the camera crew here. They talked to me about how the book was written and we explored the edge-lands round Bilton.”

The cover of the paperback version of Rob Cowen's Common Ground.

Published originally by Random House, Common Ground Common tells the story of how Cowen spend an entire year exploring a single square mile of wood, meadow, hedge and river at the back of Bilton.

The story of what he discovered is juxtaposed with his own personal dramas and feelings in a momentous 12 months during which his wife Rosie was expecting their first child, Thomas.

Fortunately his wife likes Common Ground.

Rob said: “When I was writing it I had to write it from my perspective and be truthful to how I felt and thought at all times.

The cover of the paperback version of Rob Cowen's Common Ground.

“Thankfully, Rose wanted to wait until it was finished and printed before she started to read it. But she has now and she loves it very much.”

Rob’s previous books on nature had been well received but Common Ground ended up being selected as a Book of the Year in the Times, the Independent, the Sunday Express, as well as appearing in the Guardian Readers’ Top Ten Books of the Year.

Alan Bennett singled it out in his annual diary in the London Review of Books, while Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, described it as “absolutely mesmerizing, utterly beautiful and engrossing”.

But taking part in the lengthy segment in this Sunday’s edition of Countryfile wasn’t all plain sailing, said this award-winning journalist, who has written regularly for the Daily Telegraph.

“We spent a freezing day filming lots of things between Bilton and the Nidd Gorge – the river, buzzards, herons, treecreepers, owls and, of course, the human layers, the vanished infrastructure, the gorge, the old railway.

“Frustratingly, we saw lots of deer but the crew was always too slow to catch them on camera!”

Rob, who hails from Ilkley originally. only returned to Harrogate a few years back after a lengthy spell in London.

Although the book’s ‘action’ takes place exclusively in Harrogate, Rob’s own multi-layered approach to the art of writing has made the end result accessible to people who might never have heard of Harrogate before, never mind Bilton.

Its writing was an epic saga in itself.

Rob said: “The book evolved out of a 150,000 words of field notes and drawings, all done in the place itself – and that was before I even started writing ‘the book’. “

Packed with historical detail as well as surprising insights into the commonplace and everyday, Rob believes the book is made compelling partly because of this area’s own fascinating past and pedigree.

Rob said: “People have a set image of Harrogate as a spa resort, all grand façades and ornate parks, but that patch of scrubby margin at Bilton predates all the finery by millennia. The land there has the most extraordinary history.”

The paperback of Common Ground will be published on March 24. It will be published in the autumn in America by University of Chicago Press.