Book Review: Unofficial Britain by Gareth E. Rees

We think of folklore as taking place in misty moors and dark forests, but as ways of life changed and people moved from countryside to town, they didn’t stop telling stories or having unusual experiences. Instead these now take place in tower blocks or underpasses, crossroads are replaced by roundabouts and motorway junctions, and strange beasts are now encountered on the fringes on cities rather than deep forests. Unofficial Britain looks at the generally disregarded locations of the modern landscape that feature in people’s stories. There are chapters on the strangeness of pylons, urban geomancy, haunted housing estates, weird experiences on motorways and the non-places of service stations, and strange creatures and liminality in industrial estates. This features a look at the nightmarish Greenock catman, which sees the author go clambering through bushes behind Greenock bus depot in the hunt for him.

While the book documents a range of people’s experiences, it’s also a very personal book, taking us through the author’s life and the stories he told himself about the smokestacks and gap sites around him. It’s extremely readable and taps into an eclectic selection of sources- historical accounts, first hand experiences, urban druids and punk bands to name a few. Essential reading if you are interested in the urban wyrd and how folklore is mutating and developing in modern times.

Review by SJ Lyall