After eleven years as an alien in London, Paul Theroux set out on a damp May day in 1982 to discover Britain by traveling round her entire coast. Being American was an advantage. He could write about the British as they could not write about themselves. He did not want to write about museums, castles and cathedrals. Nor did he want his journey to be a stunt; he would not set a time limit or restrict himself to one means of transport. He would simply take to the coast and keep to it. Mainly by train, but walking too, he would circumnavigate Britain. It was a natural itinerary. Britain’s coast defined her: ‘the coast belongs to everyone.’
Naturally talkative, Theroux discovered the candor as well as the secretiveness of the island’s people. Staying in bed and breakfasts and small hotels he found himself on the receiving end of confidences and strident opinions as well as British hospitality. He found unadulterated pleasures -- sunlit strands, three-coach branch-line trains, an invitation to a crofter’s cottage for tea -- and doubtful experiences -- caravan-lined beaches, stony cities, a day at Butlins, and the terrors of Ulster which rule its hard-pressed people. ‘To be anonymous and traveling in an interesting place is an intoxication,’ he says, and from Weymouth, with its welcoming smell of fish and beer, to Cape Wrath, ‘a beautiful unknown place,’ he communicates that intoxication in a restless, vivid, opinionated series of eye-witness impressions.