The Old Ways

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Old Ways pb.jpgI finally got around to reading Robert Macfarlane’s much acclaimed (and best selling) walking account – the ‘Book of the Year’ for many critics. Much of the The Old Ways follows the old routes of Britain, including offshore routes both by boat and on foot. That includes ‘the deadliest paths in England,’ the routes which venture offshore into territory which can very quickly submerge under an incoming tide. The Broomway, Macfarlane notes, is responsible for 66 graves in one churchyard alone.

The walking also takes him overseas, including some strolls with Raja Shehadeh’s in Palestine. I read his wonderful Palestinian Walks before I set out on my own walks in Israel and Palestine in 2011.


He also ventures around the mysterious Minya Konka (AKA Mt Gongga) in China’s Sichuan Province. A bigger version of the better known Mt Kailash in Tibet, which I have walked around. Macfarlane mentions assorted people who have come to grief on or around this daunting peak although he doesn’t mention Clem Lindenmayer, the author of the first editions of Lonely Planet’s Patagonian and Swiss walking guides. Clem disappeared while walking around Minya Konka in 2007. His body was found month later on a remote trail, it appeared he had died of natural causes.

I read The Old Ways on paper, but if there was ever a book to read in an electronic version this is it. Over and over again I found my finger stabbing at a word and waiting for the definition to pop up. Too often I didn’t have a dictionary to hand, the author writes wonderfully and clearly has a huge vocabulary, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered so many new words or more familiar words used in interesting new contexts. Certainly not words about walking. The book does include a Glossary, which featured lots of words I already knew, lots I didn’t know, but left out lots more I would like to have learned about!