We have lots of walks here on the Brinsop Court Estate, but sometimes it is a treat to just read about other people’s walks! Last year “The Old Ways” by Robert Macfarlane, subtitled “A Journey on Foot” was Waterstone’s June book of month and their marketing blurb stated the book is “The perfect summer read and a passionate endorsement to get out of the house, embrace the great outdoors and to walk, explore and enjoy our surroundings.”
I am not sure that the book would inspire you to get out of the house, but if you enjoy walking, exploring and reading about it, then this is a book for you. It is part travel, with a sprinkling of geography, some snippets of history and references to some of the greats in our literary past. For a non-fiction book it is highly readable and glorious in its descriptions and imagery.
The photo is of the view when walking around Brinsop and the field called Big Ox.
Macfarlane refers to Wordsworth several times in his first couple of chapters and puts Wordsworth’s walking into perspective as he says that Wordsworth was estimated to have walked for 175,000 – 180,000 miles, whereas Macfarlane has only managed 7,000 to 8,000 miles so far in his lifetime.
Macfarlane uses a lot of lists in his writing and I can imagine him out of the road making mental or even physical lists of what he experiences. For example in his initial preamble he states
“And everywhere I met people – usual and unusual, quiet and voluble, everyday and eccentric …….//…. I met dawdlers, dreamers, striders, guides, pilgrims, wanderers, stravaigers, trespassers, cartographers – and a man who believed he was a tree and that trees were people.”
In case like me you didn’t know – stravaigers is from the Scottish meaning to roam or wander!
I like his wit and occasionally I have been moved to laugh out loud as I read and mark a passage to return to later
“Two days before I set off, my Alaskan friend James helpfully recommended that I take a small sharp hatchet with me: ‘That way, if you get stuck in the mud with the tide coming in, you can cut your legs off at the ankles and escape.’”
I mentioned his imagery earlier and a fantastic example of his ability to show us what he sees is when he was in Stornoway harbour with
“Big seals floating here and there, their nostrils and eyes just above the water, their blubbery backs looking like the puffed-up anoraks of murder victims……”
Fabulous description that I know I will remember when I next see seals in the water!
The only negative about the book is the photography which is grainy and difficult to appreciate. There may be practical reasons why the photographs aren’t better, but in my view they add nothing to it.
The Old Ways is one of those books that you don’t want to finish because once you get to the end it feels as though a brilliant journey is over and you can’t repeat straight away and so feel lost without with its companionship along the way!