Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane

British nature writer Robert MacFarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot is a literary mix of geology, history, birds, plants, memoir and biography. He walks ancient footpaths and his prose rambles along, covering topics in the same organic way that one sees new things along the way and vistas open up when one comes around a bend.

I listened to the Blackstone audiobook [11.5 hrs] read by Robin Sachs (who died earlier this year). Sachs' voice is just the right blend of cultured and gruff for this contemplative outdoor narrative.

Walking is my preferred mode of transportation, so I really identified with the following passage:

"My legs preserved the ghost sense of stride, the muscle memory of repeated action, and twitched forwards even as I rested. My feet felt oddly dented in their soles, as if the terrain over which I had passed had imprinted its own profile into my foot like a mark knuckled into soft clay. How had Flann O'Brien put it in The Third Policeman? 'When you walk, the continual crackling of your feet on the road makes a certain quantity of road come up into you.'"

In another chapter, MacFarlane is encouraged to experience the joys of walking barefoot. One of his walking companions is even enthusiastic about walking barefoot through nettles, which he describes as being like chili for the feet. MacFarlane himself is dubious, but it reminds me of the time when I was so cold at a farm in Spain that I gathered nettles for soup and welcomed the long-lasting prickly warmth they brought to my hands.

Most of MacFarlane's walking takes place in the British Isles, but he also writes about walking in Palestine, Spain and the Himalayas, as well as travelling by boat. It's all very interesting and it makes me want to take a walking holiday in England.

Readalike authors: Sue Hubbell, Michael Pollan, Bill Bryson, Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux.
Donkeys along the route I took in France in 2009.

No comments: