Book review: Around Wales By B-roads and Byways

Regular readers will know I’ve been away on assignment in Croatia. During the journey, I was reading about another writer’s journey closer to home.

I was sent a copy of the latest book by Jamie Owen, the BBC Wales TV and radio presenter, for review. Around Wales By B-roads and Byways (Ebury Press, £20) is his fourth book and based on a journey around his homeland.

Journalistic credentials

If anyone knows Wales, Jamie should. Pembrokeshire born and Cardiff-based, he comes with a raft of journalistic credentials and a wealth of personal experience.

So, why then does this book fall flat? It’s strange that the journalistic flair he employs in the day job is cast aside here like sheep droppings on a Snowdonia back road.

Wales is rich with colourful local characters quick to spin a yarn. Yet they are mostly absent. Wales lends itself to lyrical description of its natural beauty. Yet the tone is flat and pedestrian. Wales is an ideal places to dig out an interesting anecdote, or delve into an ancient folk legend. Yet the action is related as a series of simple episodes without humour or intrigue.

Profound conclusions

In the conclusion, he writes:

It seems wrong to draw profound conclusions from a relatively modest jaunt around a small country.

And therein lies the problem. By his own admission, this book is a little too lightweight. I want some sense of conclusion, some sense of what he (and hence us) learn from his journey about the changing nature of Wales and Welsh cultural identity.

But, by omitting much of the country from his route map, these fragments of journeys feel disjointed and lacking a coherent aim. It’s just a walk for walking sake.

Rich seam

Wales is changing, and there’s a rich seam of material to be mined from this evolution. The world is crying out for a book that captures that zeitgeist.

I’m sure Jamie is a lovely bloke and a first-class journalist. I even sat next to him once at a Visit Wales event and, although I’m sure he doesn’t remember me at all, he was charming and professional.

But if he’s not up to writing the book Wales deserves, maybe somebody else should.

Somebody like me.

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