Hidden Histories – a Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape


I have lost count of the times I have travelled down a country road and come across a particular feature of the landscape that has set me wondering either what it was or why it was there.

Being able to identify why a field is full of lumps and bumps or how old a particular church tower is, helps us to identify with our landscape and adds to our enjoyment of it.

side1-hidden-histories-packshot-lrIn her new book ‘Hidden Histories – A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape’, author Mary-Ann Ochota provides us with a fascinating and entertaining insight into the British landscape. This excellent guide will help you decipher the story of our landscape through the features you see around you providing a good base for hunting out and piecing together the clues in our countryside.

The book is designed to assist the landscape spotter in the field, however, it will also motivate and entertain the armchair spotter and as the author points out, free online access to aerial images and high-resolution interactive maps can let us see an awful lot of landscape without leaving the house.

Illustrated with plenty of photographs and diagrams to point out specific details and typical examples to help the curious spotter understand what they are looking at, or for, the book also contains specially commissioned illustrations to bring to life the process that shaped the landscape: from medieval ploughing to the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The book is divided up into sections covering Lumps and Bumps, Stones, Lines and In the Village and also contains a useful guide to reading Grid References. There is also a comprehensive index of places as well as ‘Finest Five’ examples at the end of each section.

The author’s approach is scholarly and practical and the book is written in a lively way that will stimulate novices such as me to go out and discover what can be discovered from features we encounter in everyday life and yet know so little about. As she points out in the Introduction, there are remarkable sites in very parish in Britain, each one revealing something of the activities and beliefs of the people who lived here before us, growing food, caring for animals, raising families and even burying the dead.


‘Hidden Histories’ arms the amateur explorer with the crucial information needed to ‘read’ the landscape and spot the human activities that have shaped our green and pleasant land.

Mary-Ann Ochota is a broadcaster and anthropologist who gained her MA in Archaeology and Anthropology from Cambridge. She is a familiar face on archaeology programmes including Time Team and ITV’s Britain’s Secret Treasurers for which she also wrote the tie-in book in association with the British Museum. She is also a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines on the outdoors and adventure.

‘Hidden Histories – A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape’ by Mary-Ann Ochota is published by Frances Lincoln – www.quartoknows.com – in hardback at £20. It’s a handy size to keep in the car and that is where my copy will reside so that when I see something and think ‘What on earth is that thing?’ I can consult Hidden Histories and finally discover what I am looking at.