Ring the Hill by Tom Cox – an idiosyncratic portrait of Britain from a skilful writer’s point of view


“Ring the Hill” is an ancient nickname for a hare, one of the many animals that Tom Cox encounters in his largely spontaneous rambles and journeys around various bits of Britain. Cox is a unplanned writer in many ways, drifting from topic to topic  as he describes his frequent house moves, largely unplanned but undertaken for the satisfying of a need to explore. Not content just to visit for a short stay, Cox regularly packs up all his goods and chattels and moves to a rented house in a different area. Not that he conducts a careful study of the area, walking specific routes, planning to look for particular features. While he has discovered the joys of a personalised Ordinance Survey maps which he deploys while on a walk, he also frequently departs from any planned route, sometimes because there is some form of blockage, sometimes because he is attracted by something else.


Cox meets people who are shaped by where they live, in lonely places or in places with strong traditions. Like many books which supposedly concern the countryside, he writes meaningfully about the people who live alternative lives. He writes about the treatment of the animals he encounters, about eels from an eel catcher, his disgust at a man who hunts deer, the problems of tick infestations. He is a magpie writer, picking up various things as they catch his attention. He becomes obsessed by various things such as swimming in a particular cove, giving it a special name as he gets to know the tides and behaviours of the people he encounters on his days there in a specially warm season. 


The mundane things of life entertain and bemuse him, such as his relationships with indoor plants and the cats he adopts. The first move detailed in the book reveals his obsession with the inland sea levels, thus the section is called “Island Hopping”, as he travels from the higher points of Somerset to the lower. He discovers the personalities of recent  and present neighbours, speculating on their attitude to the land. Small pieces of history are dotted throughout the book, such as King Alfred’s ill fated cooking. 


Cox also indulges in self depreciation, admitting to being a tall person who frequently bangs his head on all manner of things among other faults such as picking places to live without checking such things as access in bad weather and local supplies. He is fortunately supported by his largely unshockable and dedicated parents, even if he describes his father as always talking in capital letters, having a group of friends who he describes in exhausting detail, and having a fascination with dead creatures. Fortunately he can also call on them for supplies when he finds himself trapped in an isolated house, and conversation whenever he feels the need. Cox becomes fascinated on the definitions of the “North” of the country, debating whether it is a matter of strict geography or culture and tradition. Thus he is aware of accents and behaviours which may be considered more Northern or Southern.


This book defies easy description, as it is an appreciation from a very personal position of an eccentric set of observations of animals, people, countryside, behaviour and many other things. It is enjoyable and stimulating reading, as he spots the delight of glow worms, spiritual and magical influences on areas, and the extremes of weather in a particular place. Not a travelogue, or a nature study book, or a self help book, but a loose collection of entertaining observations and conclusions by a very skilful writer.