Robb has a good eye for the small and seemingly ordinary things that convey a sense of remoteness – of place and time ... Robb intercuts the past and present, the intimate and the impersonal, to wonderful effect. Few authors write so well about things lost and neglected – or have such sharp ears and eyes for the natural world.
No one can say Robb is not brave ... The border lands were my home for a while; he catches their introversion beautifully ... I am inclined to indulge him his kite flying about the wretched Celts. He has earned the romance. His skill as a writer is to understand, without being fey, the fourth dimension: peeling back the modern landscape to find buried stories and forgotten paths, metaphors for life. He has the ability to bring alive quirk and coincidence — although sometimes too much — in the resonance of place and time.
Like many a rural expedition, The Debatable Land has an engaging beginning, a stodgy middle in which we get bogged down and briefly lost, and a clearsighted finale. Few travel books focus on such a compressed region—the Debatable Land measures about 13 miles from tip to tip—and offer the reader so little personal feeling. I got more sense of Mr. Robb the explorer from his tracking of Rimbaud [in his previous book] than from The Debatable Land. His wife, having moved into the house, effectively disappears from the story. Locals surface from rain- and windswept fields to offer morsels of wisdom but are allowed to pass on without introduction. Mr. Robb’s companions are his theories, his bicycle, his books and his maps.