A woman's hand is white and beautiful because it is a thing of flesh and bone, not ivory and silver; I esteem it not because it gleams but because it grasps. SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ

Exceptional beauty and charm are among those gifts given by the sinister fairy at the christening. REBECCA SOLNIT

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Old Ways

Much has been written of travel, far less of the road. EDWARD THOMAS The Icknield Way (1913)

My eyes were in my feet . . . NAN SHEPHERD The Living Mountain (1977)

All things are engaged in writing their history . . . Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting, a map of its march. The ground is all memoranda and signatures; and every object covered over with hints. In nature, this self-registration is incessant, and the narrative is the print of the seal. RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1850)  

Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways is one of the finest books on walking I've ever read. Though it's about so much more than walking — it's about the whole world. Everything is contained in and fans out from the paths we take, whether our journey lies inwards or outwards. The tracks we make, our footprints in the snow, are our witness and record, our narrative and our history.

This book could not have been written by sitting still. The relationship between paths, walking and the imagination is its subject, and much of its thinking was therefore done — was only possible — while on foot. Although it is the third book in a loose trilogy about landscape and the human heart, it need not be read after or in the company of its predecessors. It tells the story of walking a thousand miles or more along old ways in search of a route to the past, only to find myself delivered again and again to the contemporary. It is an exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt ancient paths, of the tales that tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and trespass, of songlines and their singers and of the strange continents that exist within countries. Above all, this is a book about people and place: about walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move.

ROBERT MACFARLANE The Old Ways, Author's Note


Sy said...

love this book. one of my favourites

The Weaver of Grass said...

One of my favourites Robert - I have all his books.

George said...

It was you, Robert, who first introduced me to Macfarlane's writing, and I have enjoyed his books immensely. I read "The Old Ways" shortly after its release, and it resonated with me so much that I almost underlined every sentence in the book.

am said...

Thanks so much for the book suggestion. Our public library has a copy. I'll be reading it soon.
Was able to spend many hours walking on Friday and Saturday of this week -- in the woods and down along Bellingham Bay. Yay!!!

pilgrimpace said...

Thanks Robert. To my mind, this is the best of his books. There is much to live out of in it.

I'm reading Matthew Hollis' book on Edward Thomas at the moment. Hollis is much less appreciative of Thomas' prose than Macfarlane.


sackerson said...

Look sgood. Not read it yet - but read about it in the Guardian over the weekend.


Bouncing Bertie said...

Totally agree. Absolutely brilliant. I've greatly enjoyed Robert Macfarlane's other books, but this one is my favourite by far. Definitely, for me, the most enriching read of the past couple of years.

dritanje said...

I have not read this yet. Clearly, I must! But for some reason, W G Sebald's 'Rings of Saturn' floats into my mind. Have you read it? It is an account of a walk, and of all the related thoughts that come to mind, the stories and memories...in Sebald's deceptively simple prose, utterly otherworldly too, through a feeling of a haunting 'other energy' informing the writer's awareness.
Thanks for pointing this book out!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Sy and Pat.

I'm so pleased you enjoyed Macfarlane so much, George.

If you liked Solnit, Am, I think you will really like this book, — and all his others.

I think it's his best book so far too, Andy and Gail. I want to read that Edward Thomas one.

Hi, Dominic — and Dritanje, yes, I adore Sebald's writing, and 'The Rings of Saturn' is one of my favourites.

Vagabonde said...

I was away from my blog for over two months and now am trying to catch up – I looked at all your posts. Your picture of gooseberries is so tempting – one of my favorite fruits. It is not grown or offered here in Georgia, and the blackcurrant either and I miss them both. I look at your books on walking with melancholy as I used to walk so much, and easily. I could walk all day in Paris from early morning to late at night. But now, after two knees injuries, one ankle injury and arthritis setting in it is very painful to walk and I do it slowly. I guess I should get knee replacement but they don’t always work. So I don’t think I’ll read books on walking – traveling yes.

catharus said...

Thanks, I'll have to check this out. I've only read his "The Wild Places".

The Solitary Walker said...

Good to hear from you, Vagabonde. Gooseberries are so incredible — it's that mix of sweet (from added sugar, but not too much) and sour that does it, I think. Walking in Paris from daybreak till dusk sounds heavenly — a shame you can't do it any more. Never mind, lots of good travel books out there! And, of course, you're still doing lots of travel yourself, which I enjoy very much reading about.

The Solitary Walker said...

Catharus — you will enjoy it if you liked 'The Wild Places'. It's even better!

Nick said...

Living as I do out in the back of beyond in a foreign land, I had not heard of Mr Macfarlane or his writing; thank you for introducing me to him.

The Solitary Walker said...

It's a pleasure to spread the word about this writer, Nick.

Anonymous said...

My daughter lent me this book. It is amazingly good. In fact, I was going to inquire whether or not you had read it.