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The Old Ways

Robert Macfarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’….

In The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane has quite possibly wrote the best book I have read in 2018. The subject matter is something of a departure from my norm but a welcome one nonetheless. The reviews for the book are extraordinary, Macfarlane has won over many fans with his form of travel writing and rightly so. He has a captivating style which draws the reader in to his world of rugged, beautiful landscapes, lost pathways, chalk streams, woodlands and mountain ranges. He sees all of this on foot, often barefoot to better connect with the terrain and this act alone is brilliantly documented with references to those authors who had wrote of its merits such as Nan Shepherd and Frank Fraser Darling in the 1930s and 40s.

Divided into four sections; Tracking, Following, Roaming, Homing he covers walks throughout England and Scotland as well as further afield in Palestine, Spain and Nepal. He combines beautifully descriptive accounts of the landscape with history, geography and personal memories to show a life crafted by the outdoors and an invaluable reminder of much which sits on our own doorstep.

It is a clever book in many ways, Macfarlane is clearly highly educated yet he leaves the reader in doubt as to the importance of any kind of education in our natural world, there is no charge against global warming, instead he inspires one to look closer at their surroundings, to admire and take note of the trees, wild flowers, birds and animals which grace our lands. This surely is the way to drive our focus and become more environmentally aware, it is education without lecture, a series of walks across as yet, untarnished landscapes steeped in history and folklore which demand protection from human interference. These walks bring the author together with similar wanderers whose lives have been spent living in and amongst tiny communities well off the beaten track. He encounters warm hospitality and comradeship and sees at first hand how lives can be led without the complications of 21st century technology, workloads and the associated pressures.

These companions are fascinating characters who make one’s own life seem infinitely dull, the pathways Macfarlane describes throughout the book prompt subconscious questions about our own chosen routes in life and the true purpose of how we live. As we envisage his footsteps that feeling of richness which only a connection with nature can truly bring jumps out, it reminds us how we strive blindly to consume and to collect whilst a landscape, millions of years in the making sits waiting for us to realise the futility of such a pursuit.

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