Passion, protest and belonging
Imagine a major threat to your local landscape – that ancient wood, those flower-rich fields, the vital wildlife? Would you, could you stand up for it?
There are those amongst us who remember well Greenham Common in the early1980s as a place of serious protest by women to stop the Mutually Assured Destruction which this nuclear cruise missile airbase was destined to start or finish. None of us realised then it would take two decades of fortitude and resilience. Nicola Chester grew up with the women ‘embracing the base’ in plain view and in 2000 was amongst those at last able to walk in as it was liberated to revert to commonland.
Add involvement in the demonstrations against road incursions through the chalk of Twyford Down and the brave tree-dwelling on the line of the Newbury Bypass and you will know that willingness to protest has been a driving force in Nicola Chester’s life.
Passionate about where she has grown up, lived and worked in Berkshire and Hampshire, she has spent eight years researching and writing a beautifully wrought memoir as she brought up children and worked as school librarian. Passion, protest and belonging is the subtitle of her book On Gallows Down and the words echo through as she leads us via “nature, literature and place twining like wild clematis and ivy through a quickthorn hedge”. Musing with John Clare, William Cobbett, Thomas Hardy and many more she reveals that “phrases come back to me …. as if they were written on the landscape for me to read, in sharp relief”. We can indulge in listening with her for the cuckoo, watching the hare and the otter, learning the origin of the name of the lapwing. And be grateful for her engagement locally as she “... begged, pleaded, wrote, nagged, motivated, entreated, implored and challenged …” Existential threats have not gone away.
About Nicola Chester
Nicola has been writing about nature - as an act of joy, connection and a resistance to its loss - for almost twenty years. A rural, working-class writer in an all too rarefied field, Nicola's work is unusual for depicting the countryside as it is lived on the economic margins. Writing in an accessible, literary and lyrical style, Nicola aims to engage, move and reconnect people with their wildlife in the hope they will then care enough to help stem its catastrophic loss.She is the RSPB's longest running female columnist, a Guardian Country Diarist and writes for Countryfile Magazine, as well as working as a School Librarian in a rural Secondary School. Her memoir of place, protest and belonging, On Gallows Down, won the Richard Jefferies Prize and was Highly Commended for the Wainwright Prize. She lives with her family in a tenanted farm workers cottage in the North Wessex Downs.