The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Robert Macfarlane

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

In "The Old Ways" Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove - roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters, and connecting them to the continents beyond. The result is an immersive exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and ritual, and of songlines and their singers. 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. 4.3 out of 5 based on 11 reviews
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Travel, Science & Nature
Format Hardback
Pages 448
RRP
Date of Publication June 2012
ISBN 978-0241143810
Publisher Hamish Hamilton
 

In "The Old Ways" Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove - roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters, and connecting them to the continents beyond. The result is an immersive exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and ritual, and of songlines and their singers. 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.

Interview with Robert Macfarlane | Observer

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Reviews

The Sunday Telegraph

Adam Nicolson

Magnificent … In some ways, this is a manifesto. By sinking deep into these places, the walker dissolves the difference between himself and the world he is walking though. But the word “environment” never occurs here, because it assumes a person distinct from the world around him. That is exactly the distinction that has to be dissolved. And walking can dissolve it because, according to Macfarlane, “The body knows things in ways that the conscious mind cannot.”

27/05/2012

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The New Statesman

John Burnside

... the best nature writers are those humble pilgrims who, with no particular competence to show off or prepared philosophy to air, wander — or rather saunter — into the world to see what it has to offer … It is this ability to saunter, this sense of being always on the way, that marks Robert Macfarlane out as our finest nature writer. Intrepid and well-informed he may be, but there is no sense of ego here and, more often than not he mentions himself only to note what an encumbrance he is to the more com­petent souls who accompany, guide or sail him around the old ways — the footpaths and tracks, the sea lanes and ghost roads — that criss-cross the planet.

30/05/2012

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The Observer

William Dalrymple

… his recklessly poetic and sometimes almost mystical speculations are always firmly rooted in the precision of his observation and reporting and irrigated by the wide variety of different interests he brings to his books ... Macfarlane can also tell a good story, and is companionable and funny: unlike many nature writers, he likes people ... Above all, perhaps, Macfarlane brings to his books his love and knowledge of the natural world, and so cross-fertilises the rich till of his travel writing with the loam of another very English tradition of observational literature: nature writing.

10/06/2012

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The Daily Telegraph

Jan Morris

[An] extraordinary book … Of course Macfarlane quests no voles through plashy fens, but he perhaps suffers from his reputation as a scholarly nature-writing stylist. Can “wands of dogwood” really make “zebra-hide” of a snowy path? Do the flights of puffins truly sound like “bank-notes being whirred through a telling machine”? Can prose be “tendrilled”? And what is the meaning of “chiasmic” as applied to the Spanish palindrome that ran rhythmically through the author’s brain on the track to Minya Konka? Enough! It is easy to shake a tall poppy, and if there are some laughable things in The Old Ways there is much more of beauty and generous insight.

06/06/2012

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The Sunday Times

John Carey

A book like this risks seeming just one damned walk after another. But from the very first page, where he describes a moonlit stroll from his Cambridge room across a snowy landscape, you know that the most valuable thing about The Old Ways is going to be the writing ... It is like reading a prose Odyssey sprinkled with imagist poems ... By comparison with the wild life, the people he introduces mostly seem less interesting than they evidently are to him ... The dead writers Macfarlane invokes are a lot more enlivening.

27/05/2012

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The Guardian

Alexandra Harris

The chief guiding spirit of The Old Ways is Edward Thomas … In a sense [it] is an experiment in geographical biography, asking how much we can understand of another's life by inhabiting their places and following their tracks. As such it is deeply indebted to a modern tradition of biographical path-following that goes back to Richard Holmes's luminous Footsteps. And it is fascinating in being completely unlike — but complementary to — All Roads Lead to France, Matthew Hollis's beautifully observed study of Thomas's last years ... At times there are too many points of focus. But this is a spacious and inclusive book, which allows for many shifts in emphasis, and which, like the best paths, is always different when you go back to look at it again.

02/06/2012

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The Independent

Frances Spalding

Macfarlane is outstanding among the new naturalists in his desire to examine the full range of his responses, in this case, to these paths, their histories and legacy. He grapples objectively with facts, identifying gneiss or granite, chalk or peat; and he is a respectful user of cartography, archaeology and natural history. But he is also fascinated by himself, his pleasures, fears, tiredness and the state of his feet. He is equally alert to the human history associated with these walks ... Macfarlane writes superbly. He sustains admiration from first to last, in spite of doubts about the book's structure and overall purpose.

09/06/2012

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The Economist

The Economist

Small complaints could be made. The middle section on sea-roads, while enjoyable, doesn’t really fit; one senses here the inveterate explorer’s unease with sticking to one subject, or one path. Several chapters cry out for maps; indeed, almost all do. But then Mr Macfarlane has always decried the use of maps, recommending instead the charts formed by memory, incident, fear or affection, and carried in our heads. Readers are invited, instead, to wander and lose themselves; and it is hard to think of a more pleasurable way to do so without leaving one’s chair.

26/05/2012

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The Evening Standard

David Sexton

He does risk sounding precious when he turns his engagement with the landscape into a kind of performance art, by arranging stones, say, singing to a seal, or, in a coda, following prehistoric footprints exposed in the mud at Formby. But the book actually tips over into tweeness only in the sections in which he pays tribute to other such artists he seeks out, practising occult taxidermy on Harris, or making divinatory found-object books in Madrid ... Macfarlane himself is the most observant, imaginative and accomplished wayfarer we have and this captivating book fully matches up to the work of his great precursors — and takes it forward too.

25/05/2012

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The Scotsman

Stuart Kelly

[It] confirms Robert Macfarlane’s reputation as one of the most eloquent and observant of contemporary writers about nature; although a new term is increasingly necessary … The Old Ways progresses the debate about what the “New Nature Writing” really is

27/05/2012

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The Spectator

Sam Leith

There’s little more tedious in a novel, let alone in non-fiction, than ostentatiously fine writing (or Fine Writing, as it’s properly capitalised). It’s normally bad writing. But fine writing — in the sense of precise, careful and original prose; lyrical without being pretentious — does exist. Macfarlane is an example of it ... Easy as it would be to spoof Macfarlane’s style, the fact is it does its job extraordinarily well. You see these trees and pathways; you hear those birds. And there really are few prose writers who take such a poet’s care with cadence.

26/05/2012

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