Harrogate writer's Nidd Gorge book in UK top three poll

Harrogate writer Rob Cowen in the Nidd Gorge.
Harrogate writer Rob Cowen in the Nidd Gorge.
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A Harrogate writer’s uncoventional book set in Nidd Gorge has stunned its author by beating the likes of The Wind in the Willows in a poll of the UK’s favourite nature books.

Common Ground by Rob Cowen was voted third top behind Chris Packham’s book Fingers in the Sparkle and Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson in a national online poll.

In top three favourite nature book ever - Harrogate's Rob Cowen.

In top three favourite nature book ever - Harrogate's Rob Cowen.

The result was announced on BBC Two’s Winterwatch to the author’s own surprise who is now dedicating the award to Harrogate campaign groups battling to protect Nidd Gorge from development.

Rob, who writes regularly on nature and travel for the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, said: "I'm delighted and honoured that Common Ground has done so well/

"You daren't dream as an author of writing something that some people like as much as The Wind in the Willows which I read as a child.

"It's a brave choice by the public. It's a different sort of book but a lot of people have taken it to their hearts and fallen in love with it."

Cowen, who lives in Bilton with his wife and two children, devoted an entire year for the book exploring a single square mile of wood, meadow, hedge and river around the Bilton Bridleway and Nidd Gorge area in all weather condition.

The campaign to find the UK’s favourite book about the natural world saw Rob’s book beat the likes of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris and The Peregrine by JA Baker in a poll which attracted thousands of votes from the public.

Rob said the popularity of Common Ground was helping to shine a spotlight on the importance of preserving Nidd Gorge against any possible development for housing or roads.

He said: "The book tells a true story about nature as it really is. It's not all about the nice daffodils.

"It says something about how we in urban areas love alongside nature and our relationship to the landscape in modern times. It's part of a mich wider discussion going on in the UK right now.

"The irony is that the area the book is about may be under threat of possible housing or a new relief road nearby.

"It's not a glamorous space but anyone who spends any time in Nidd Gorge knows what a precious place it is.

"It's much more than a collection of trees. To build in the area would be madness."

Originally published by Random House in 2015, Common Ground mixes personal memoir with deep historical research and natural history and was acclaimed by famous names such as Michael Palin, Joanne Harris and Alan Bennett.

Rob said he wanted to dedicate his award to the local community groups fighting at the moment to protect Bilton Fields and Nidd Gorge.

Common Ground was selected for a top ten shortlist by a panel of experts from 278 classic books originally nominated by the public last year.

The campaign to find the UK’s favourite book about the natural world was part of Land Lines, a two-year research project by academics at Leeds, St Andrew’s and Sussex universities, looking at how nature writing in the UK has changed over the last 200 years.

Rob Cowen is currently working on his next book, the story of the longest road in the UK, the A1, which sees him walking its entire 410 miles to trawl through its history from the Roman era onwards.