Three brothers run away from home to live like Robin Hood and his merry men, deep in the forest of Brendon Chase.
Faced with the end of the holidays and the prospect of school, who hasn’t dreamt of running away to the woods to live wild as a badger, to hunt and forage like a woodsman, to tread as softly and cautiously as a fox through the undergrowth? In Brendon Chase, by the writer who called himself ‘BB’, this is precisely what three boys do. At the end of the Easter holidays, Robin, John and Harold Hensman escape their aunt’s house and go to live in an eleven-thousand-acre forest. It’s a marvellous idea.
Brendon Chase was first published in 1944 but is set roughly thirty years earlier. There’s a wonderful cast of pre-war English village characters: a fussy maiden aunt, a butterfly-collecting vicar and a rather hapless policeman and his bicycle, among others. None of the grown-ups believe the boys will make it past teatime, or nightfall, or the end of the week. Needless to say, the brothers outwit them all. With remarkable resourcefulness, they last till just after Christmas, living in a hollow oak tree and spending their days hunting for their supper, swimming in the Blind Pool and playing tricks on all who come searching for them.
The book is also full of finely observed detail from the natural world, beautifully captured in BB’s illustrations. We discover which trees the rare Purple Emperor butterfly prefers, and how it is quite impossible to kill a hedgehog, even for a hungry teenage boy: ‘they looked so comical when they ran along and their little eyes were full of intelligence’. BB captures the freedom and simplicity of childhood without idealizing it – the brothers squabble and worry, and they crave the sweet things of Aunt Ellen’s kitchen.
Brendon Chase is one of the great children’s books, a bewitching blend of adventure and natural history, high jinks and skilled bushcraft – just the thing for anyone who has caught themselves eyeing up the nearest patch of woodland and wondering what fun might lie there.
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Denys Watkins-Pitchford (1905–90), who wrote under the pseudonym ‘BB’, was the author of more than sixty books for adults and children. BB was both a writer and an illustrator, and his charming original illustrations decorate his books. But above all he was a countryman, whose intimate and unsentimental knowledge of animals, birds and plants, as well as his gifts as a storyteller, make his books unique.
‘‘I love the nature writing of BB (Denys Watkins-Pitchford), who grew up in a vicarage near mine in Northamptonshire, and snap up every copy of Brendon Chase I find in secondhand bookshops.’’ Reverend Richard Coles, Guardian
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Click here to read the Guardian article in full