Grounded by James Canton

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

Have you ever visited a place where, on arrival, you feel completely at home? If so, then you could be said to have become grounded. The idea of finding a place or places where the busyness of everyday life can be put to one side in favour of some quiet solitude and peace is not new. As James Canton discovered there are many places in the United Kingdom where people have found a special relationship with a particular part of the land that span not just years but many centuries and eras.

Here in Australia our Indigenous communities talk about being on country. Many have spoken about arriving on their ancestral lands and feeling a place of belonging and peace they have not been able to find anywhere else. Having this relationship with the land is seen as a necessary part of culture and personal wellbeing for many indigenous communities around the world.

Canton realises this as he visits spots that have been places of sacred significance since ancient times. Stonehenge for example is seen as one of the most important places; however there are others that have shown their significance especially when it comes to honouring the dead. Archaeological investigations have uncovered not just one burial but many spaced over years and often centuries where communities have returned many times because of the regard they have for a locality as a place of spiritual significance.

These feelings of spiritual awareness were often felt by Canton when he visited chapels and churches as part of his research. He then found that some were built on land that had been held as sacred by past generations. The present-day building continued the relationship that is both sacred and community building.

Why then did Canton go to this trouble of visiting ancient sites and seeing some of the artefacts that were retrieved from them? The importance of recognising that humanity has had a relationship with the land that was complementary rather than exploitive has grown and been more accepted in recent years. As the acceleration of climate change continues, it has become necessary to find ways of slowing it so that future generations can benefit from the bounty that the earth can and does produce if treated properly.

As well as having our own personal places of spiritual nourishment and awareness, there is also the need for letting the land speak to us in respect to what is needed to tend and care for it. Given the number of sites that he visited, Canton clearly shows that what has been done since ancient times needs to be recaptured in the present time of uncertainty. For him, the lockdowns of Covid 19 caused him to reflect and reconnect with the local community. That enabled him to see, through the eyes of the past, the importance of relating to the land. It allows us to regain our sense of belonging through seeing and listening what it has to tell us.

Dr James Canton is Director of Wild Writing at the University of Essex. He is the author of The Oak Papers, Ancient Wanderings: Journeys into Prehistoric Britain and Out of Essex: Re-imagining a Literary Landscape which was inspired by his rural wanderings in East Anglia. He has written for The Guardian, reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and is a regular on television and radio.


by James Canton


Black Inc.

ISBN 978 176064 343 0

$29.99; 272pp

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