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The Edge of Cymru: A Journey

Julie Brominicks
Publication Date: 
Monday, November 14, 2022
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“Bursts with beautiful, descriptive prose, which picks up the minutia of each moment… Brominicks skilfully examines broad social, environmental, political, economic and even geological changes without the book feeling dry… as accessible as a novel and would make a great holiday read as much as a bedside book.” – Countryfile Magazine


The Edge of Cymru is the story of Julie Brominicks’ walk around Wales in the course of a year. As an educator she knew a lot about the country’s natural resources. But as a long established incomer from England and more recent Welsh learner, she wanted to know more about its history, about Wales today, and her place in it.

As her walk unwinds the history of Wales is also unwound, from the twenty-first century back to pre-human times, often viewed through an environmental lens. Brominicksʼ observations of the places and people she meets on her journey make a fascinating alternative travelogue about Wales and the lives its people live. Her writing is lyrical, with engaging and striking coinages and images which carry the reader along too, entertained and informed. A quest of personal discovery, the narrative of The Edge of Cymru is also a refreshingly different way of looking at place, identity, memory and belonging.


Watch Julie talking about the book, her walk and journey to becoming a writer in this film by Culture Colony: The Edge of Cymru.



Review by Steven Andrew, Morning Star

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Born in Shrewsbury and a student at Aberystwyth University, Julie Brominicks went on to spend years working on environmental projects before deciding to spend time traversing the coast and borderlands of her adopted country.

The Edge of Cymru is the result of that lengthy walk, and a fantastic travelogue it is too. Funny, moving, idiosyncratic and occasionally dark, it’s a wonderful portrait of contemporary Wales and for those reasons alone it makes for a pleasurable and insightful read.

With an eye for the commonplace and the not-so-commonplace, Brominicks seamlessly combines personal and sometimes autobiographical reflections with a relevant and detailed knowledge about everything from ecology to historical background.

Brominicks also brings to her writing a passionate, inquisitive and non-judgemental interest in the lives, outlook and circumstances of the people and communities that she encounters.

Unremittingly honest about her own shortcomings as a long distance walker and with a nice line in self-deprecatory humour, Brominicks admits to times when she felt wet, tired and completely fed up, often ending the day with a few pints. And like all good walking books we feel invited not only to explore her experiences but to pull on our boots and create our own.

Given the nature of the path taken, there’s an overwhelming bias against larger towns and cities, but maybe that’s one which could be easily rectified in future ventures.

What makes this of interest to readers of the Star is that throughout this enchanting account, Brominicks allows her own unashamedly left-wing, environmentalist and (yes) potentially pro-independence views to explore not only green and decentralist concerns but also the more complex relationships between class, identity and nationhood. As Marxist historian Gwyn Williams once noted: “The Welsh as a nation have lived by making and remaking themselves generation after generation, usually against the odds, usually within a British context.”

Sympathetic to, but at the same time occasionally troubled by Welsh nationalist arguments, the end of the work sees Brominicks come to some sort of resolution of this central question at a moment which might prove to be pivotal.

Socially engaged, ecologically informed and politically aware, this is an invaluable guide to understanding Wales past, present and future and you can only hope that this is not the last we’ll be hearing from her.

Review by Steven Lovatt, Caught By The River

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Small spiders, large landladies and vandalised bus shelters: Julie Brominicks’ attentive ‘The Edge of Cymru’ is yet another example of excellence on a shoestring from Seren Books.

In 2012 Julie Brominicks left her job as a teacher and ecologist in north Wales and began walking the perimeter of her adopted country. Already an experienced hiker, she sought to stretch herself as a writer while also learning more about Wales, in part to ease her feeling of guilt as an English incomer. Among other virtues, The Edge of Cymru documents the process by which this guilt was metabolised, through the intimate action of walking, into a sense of responsibility, love and tentative belonging.

Postcolonial criticism has exposed the degree to which the literary sub-genre of Welsh walking tours is compromised by a supercilious anglocentrism. Babies and bathwater need to be separated, and there’s a big difference between, say, the exoticizing but respectful doyen George Borrow and the open sneering of Paul Theroux. But the basic problem is glaring. The Edge of Cymru breaks and remakes this tradition, partly because Brominicks is a woman, more so because of her humility, and fundamentally because the context for nature writing has changed so utterly over the last half-century that any honest account is necessarily in schism with its inheritance. Brominicks is a knowledgeable and frank chronicler of environmental breakdown, and she writes always in the shadow of what we have done to the earth by our ‘small reluctances’ to eat less meat, cease flying or look out onto a windfarm.

But the book is also different because of its style and sensibility. The Edge of Cymru grows out of an aggregation of fleeting impressions of landscapes, buildings and people met with on Bromincks’ journey. The effect, although the book is written in the past tense, is that we walk with her in the brisk immediacy of the present continuous. Her loving attentiveness is indiscriminate, egalitarian and grounded: small spiders, large landladies and vandalised bus shelters ‘sparkling’ with broken beer bottles are all documented with the same curiosity and disarming sympathy. In a wider context, Brominicks’ immersion in this technique also makes unusually visible the tension underlying all nature writing, between the intransigently non-narrative quality of field-notes and the commercial demand for more processed prose — for books that discuss, explain and interpret. If The Edge of Cymru strikes the reader strangely, it may be because Brominicks’ abstinence from interpretation makes the accretion of facts and observations seem naked and unmediated. I did occasionally wish that a remark be expanded upon, notwithstanding that more digression and reflection would lessen the effect of the book’s distinctive pointillism.

There are a few, more objective, flaws that you’d expect to be caught before the reprint: the odd factual error (Swansea’s Dragon Hotel has been misplaced by half a mile) and typo, some obtrusive repetitions, and in the historical summaries, sources too thinly paraphrased. Brominicks has an odd way with commas, too, though you soon get used to it. The book’s subtitle ‘A Journey’ also feels a bit uninspired. Overall, though, The Edge of Cymru is yet another example of Seren Books producing excellence on a shoestring.

Structurally, the progression of chapters maps onto the counties that Brominicks walks, and each begins with a concise, contextualising summary of a relevant aspect of Welsh natural and social history. Much of the research was undertaken after the walk was completed, and references to later events such as the Covid-19 pandemic add depth and narrative texture. The book is very much concerned with time, and dizzying effects are achieved by juxtaposing geological time with human history from the Ice Age to our current epoch of hyper-capitalist anomie.

But The Edge of Cymru everywhere finds and inspires delight in the relationship between words and world. The gravity of its themes is balanced by understated humour, some situational and some discovered in sly word-play, as when a field of oats is seen to ‘quake’. Brominicks has a particular gift for sonorous verb phrases that defy you not to speak them aloud:

‘a shower smacked the wayside rosehips’

‘Sand softened the spits’

Rocks that are ‘blasted, stressed and inky’

There’s a shimmering lode of poetry in these descriptions, sometimes extruded in a line that recalls the strange beauty Les Murray’s verse:

‘Rough rock was red or egg-box grey and the top layers had worked loose and wobbled.’

Nobody else writes this beautifully in quite this way, and if there’s room for doubt whether Bromincks’ clipped style suits long-form nature writing then the onus is plainly on the latter to adapt and accommodate it.

My abiding impression of The Edge of Cymru is of a still snipped from an ongoing cine-reel of Welsh cultural and landscape history, a picture of sorrow for what is being lost and love for what yet remains. Or as Brominicks puts it with eloquent simplicity, ‘I was a witness of Cymru’s edge at a point in time, before it changed’.

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