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Driving The Real Great North Road

by Andy Bull

Published December 12 – pre-order now

Just saying the name conjures up the golden age of motoring: a time when the open road spelled freedom and adventure, and when driving was fun.
Once, The Great North Road was spoken of as the UK’s own version of America’s Route 66: the Mother Road, threading its way across this green and pleasant land, linking the capitals of London and Edinburgh, taking in the great cities of York and Newcastle, numerous market towns and villages whose old coaching inns now catered for a new, romantic breed: the motorist. But all of that has long gone. Hasn’t it?
Isn’t the Great North Road now dead: buried by the A1, with its motorway-grade stretches and ubiquitous town by-passes?
Not a bit of it. Because the A1 is not the Great North Road. Realignment, renumbering, re-routing and extensive upgrading have meant that it bears little relation to the original highway. No more than a quarter of the modern A1 follows the route of the true Great North Road.
So, has that evocatively-named highway been wiped off the map? Actually, no.
These days it is hidden, renumbered as, among others, the B197, the A602, and the B656, but often still known locally as The Great North Road. All it has lost is the traffic that grew and grew until it clogged this great national artery.
That old, original route can still be driven the 400 miles from capital to capital, on a journey that does indeed have much in common with cruising America’s Route 66.
Driving the Real Great North Road is travel writer Andy Bull’s account of doing just that.
It’s also about re-living a time when the road, in the words of JB Priestley, cut through towns like a knife through cheese; when it guided stars from Sting to Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler to Eric Burdon, to fame and fortune; when Dorothy L Sayers found a road “that winds away like a long, flat, steel-grey ribbon – a surface like a race-track, without traps, without hedges, without side-roads, and without traffic.”
All you need to do is find the old road first. Let Andy show you how.

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From the Mountaintop: An Archive History of Batley RLFC

by John Roe, Terry Swift, Ken Pearson and Craig Lingard

The history of Batley Cricket, Athletic and Football Club – later known as Batley RLFC and more recently Batley Bulldogs RLFC – is a very rich one.

From its birth in 1880, evolving from the town’s cricket club that pre-dated rugby football, Batley RFC spent 15 years under the aegis of the Rugby Football Union before severing those links and joining the breakaway Northern Union that subsequently became rugby league.

All of which makes today’s Batley Bulldogs – still known to some as the Gallant Youths – one of the oldest rugby league clubs in the world, playing on a ground that is among the sport’s oldest venues.

From the Mountaintop is the product of a project funded by the National Lottery heritage Fund. A truly collaborative effort, the book is written by the author of 2014’s Sermons from the Mount, John Roe, whose chapters build upon an enormous research effort by Terry Swift.

Terry made extensive use of the National Newspaper Archive to gather and compile an archive of Batley’s very own. It now features over a thousand articles related to the club drawn from more than fifty different titles reaching back to the late nineteenth century. That archive is now a central artefact of the Batley RLFC Heritage Project.

Terry was ably assisted by Ken Pearson, who unearthed additional articles from the archive of the Batley Reporter and Guardian and the Batley News, housed in Batley Library. Finally the club’s current head coach, Craig Lingard, was overall co-ordinator of the project, ensuring the separate elements came together in a seamless fashion.

Contains a foreword by former Batley Bulldogs head coach John Kear.

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The Wicket Men: The Last Rites of Minor Counties Cricket

By Tony Hannan

It’s Britain’s hottest summer since 1976 and cricket is in a sweat of transformation. Audiences no longer care for long-form County Championship fixtures, traditional touchstone of the calendar. They prefer flash, bang, wallop! Or so the experts suppose.
Where though does that leave those twenty minor counties from Newcastle to Norfolk who for the last 125 years have provided a stepping-stone between recreational cricket and the first-class county scene?
Come 2020, the venerable Minor Counties Championship will be blown away like dandelion seeds on the breeze, to be replaced by a freshly branded and ‘more marketable’ National Counties Championship.
Well, that was the plan. In 2018, few had yet heard of Covid-19. What they did know was that their beloved competition was under existential threat and those to blame were at Lord’s, more interested in such innovative concepts as the promised new ‘Hundred’ than bolstering that which had stood the test of time.
Tony Hannan, author of Underdogs, spent what turned out to be the penultimate Minor Counties campaign in the company of Cumberland CCC, amid the dramatic lakes, fells and mountains of Cumbria. And echoing that dramatic terrain, tells a story of ups, downs and a few surprises.
A team of journeymen skippered by Gary Pratt – who famously ran Australia captain Ricky Ponting out during 2005’s Ashes series – are but one thread in a tapestry that is by turns earthy, lyrical and amusing.
The Wicket Men draws stumps on a mostly ignored but emblematic level of cricket, a pastime whose arcane rhythms and rituals are rooted in English folk tradition.

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Lost in Spain

In the Footsteps of Laurie Lee

By Dave Hadfield

It was the Booker Prize-winning author of Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally, who described Dave Hadfield as ‘The Poet of Rugby League’. True enough, though the man who has also been called Bolton’s answer to Bill Bryson has equally revelled in other subjects, like music and travel.

Lost in Spain is the result of the dying wish of his oldest friend’s wife, Barb, to have her ashes scattered along the route traced by Laurie Lee when he walked from Gloucestershire to the Mediterranean in the 1930s.

That original journey provided the material for As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, the book upon which, as well as Cider with Rosie, Lee’s glittering reputation rests.

Lost in Spain is a story of friendship and late-flowering love that is by turns informative, poignant, elegiac and laugh-out-loud funny.

These days freed from the constraints of daily journalism, Hadfield has no plans to stop writing. Of his ten books so far, five have been written since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008.

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Route 63: Around England on a Free Bus Pass

By Dave Hadfield

With a foreword by Sky Sports presenter Dave Clark

Early on the morning of his 63rd birthday, DAVE HADFIELD walked out of his front door and caught a bus…

It was the first stage in an epic journey that would take him around the furthest flung corners of his native England, showing it to him from a completely new angle.

Already acclaimed for his books on sport and music, Hadfield has broadened his canvas for what might well be his finest work yet.

Heading south along the Welsh Borders, west to Land’s End, along the South Coast to Dover, through London and up the eastern side of the country to Newcastle, through the Pennines and the Lakes and back home to Lancashire; he chronicles what he sees and hears on an itinerary that involves over 100 local buses.

Better still, he does it all for nothing – on a bus pass for which he was qualified by Parkinson’s Disease. Undeterred by that disability, he explores the country he loves with a keen eye and ear for the absurd.

By turns thoughtful and hilarious, Route 63 will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Hadfield’s writing for the Independent newspaper, as well as his highly popular previous outings. Those new to his unique style, can prepare to discover why he has been called Bolton’s very own answer to Bill Bryson.

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