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