Tom Bullough’s “Sarn Helen” is many things: a travelogue of the author’s walk of the titular Roman road that once cut through Wales, from southern Neath to northern Caerhun; a history of the country from its very beginning; and a terrifying prophecy of its future, as the climate crisis intensifies.
Despite his inauspicious forecast, “Sarn Helen” is very much a love letter to Wales. Bullough clearly loves his country. He writes vividly of its nature and landscape. He eloquently renders its cultural, mythical and political past. But at regular intervals, interviews with climate scientists interrupt his narration.
Like gut-punches, one after the other, Bullough reveals hard truths: how Wales needs to change to have a future. Not just Wales, of course; all of us, every person, every country, every continent. But it’s almost impossible to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the crisis humankind faces on a worldwide scale. So Wales is the perfect sampler. Its land mass and populace is digestible. It’s also feeling the acute impact of climate change. The north Wales town of Fairbourne is predicted to be the first community in the United Kingdom to be annihilated by rising sea levels and accelerating erosion.
A gloomy, rather depressing read, crafted beautifully.