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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

by Robert Macfarlane

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Landscapes (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,3884811,286 (4.01)149
"In this exquisitely written book, Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge, England, home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads, and sea paths that crisscross both the British landscape and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, and of pilgrimage and ritual. Told in Macfarlane's distinctive voice, 'The Old Ways' folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His walks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird islands of the Scottish northwest, from Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he crosses paths with walkers of many kinds--wanderers, pilgrims, guides, and artists. Above all this is a book about walking as a journey inward and the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move. Macfarlane discovers that paths offer not just a means of traversing space, but of feeling, knowing, and thinking."--Publisher description.… (more)
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» See also 149 mentions

English (47)  Dutch (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
587
  revirier | Dec 13, 2021 |
Excellent book by Robert Macfarlane. This is a book that reminds us that we have lost our connection with the land and the ways of walking.
This, I know, may not apply to many people who live in the rural heartlands, but it does apply to many of us who have moved to the cities, and for whom a drive means more than a walk.
When I travel into the mountains, I walk. I don't walk barefoot, but I love walking barefoot in the grass.
Robert Macfarlane's book is a reminder of the old ways of walking; of the various textures of granite, limestone, peat, etc; of the mystical connection with the land and spirit.
It's a book for re-reading. The first reading is difficult because it is tough to follow the connections he draws. Also, I am unfamiliar with some of the people he meets, and the authors he refers to.

Barring this: read the book and discover walking again. ( )
  RajivC | Nov 28, 2021 |
Macfarlane has quickly become a favorite author of mine. I am not sure anyone writes about the natural world better than he does, plus he “walks the walk” and just doesn't write about it.
Here he travels Britain's ancient paths and routes that criss-cross the British Isles. Not only does he comment on nature but the reader gets a vast history lesson on a variety of subjects, past and present. His prose is smart and beautiful throughout. The only issue I had was that I listened to this on audio, (the narrator was wonderful) but I surely missed a lot, so I hope to revisit this one in print. ( )
1 vote msf59 | Jul 13, 2021 |
Last year I read "Underland" and absolutely loved it. I had heard of another title from MacFarlane, "Waymarkers," but when I couldn't find that on audio edition, I picked up this instead. You could say that I picked it up primarily out of nostalgia for MacFarlane.

Somehow, MacFarlane manages to write books about topics that normally wouldn't fit within a book. Take this book: it is about walking. Walking is a fundamental feature of being human. MacFarlane takes such an expansive topic, and is able to write about it through personal stories.

In this book, MacFarlane muses on the way that landscapes and weather affect our thoughts and moods. David Abram takes this a step further, to say that mind is a thing external to ourselves, which we participate in. Step twenty feet off a well-trodden path, and you'll find yourself not only in unfamiliar territory, but also unfamiliar thought pattens. Although I enjoyed the snippets MacFarlane had to contribute on this subject, I don't feel like this book fundamentally improves the thinking on this subject.

I recently listened to an interview with Kim Stanley Robinson, and he said he has intentionally set himself up as a suburban stay-at-home dad to avoid the pitfalls of autobiographical novelists such as Hemingway and Kerouac, who used their exploits as fodder for their writing, and burnt themselves out along the way. I wonder about this tension; any writer is writing, to some degree, about things they know (even if they're just values, aspirations, or qualities). When is it appropriate to write autobiographically as MacFarlane has done here, and when it is better to leave ourselves out of the story?

I'm not sure if it was just my state when reading this book, but I didn't find "The Old Ways" quite so riveting as "Underland." ( )
  willszal | May 21, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
This book is as perfect as his now classic Wild Places. Maybe it is even better than that. Either way, in Macfarlane, British travel writing has a formidable new champion.
 
Macfarlane writes superbly. He sustains admiration from first to last, in spite of doubts about the book's structure and overall purpose.
 
The core of the work consists of half-a-dozen specific walks in different parts of the world, often physically very demanding, remembered in intense detail and often exquisitely described. It is overhung, though, by the intermittent presence of a spectral walker from the past – the poet Edward Thomas, who was killed in the First World War and who was perhaps the inspiration of the most famous of all walk-poems, Robert Frost’s The Road not Taken.
added by geocroc | editThe Telegraph, Jan Morris (Jun 6, 2012)
 
One senses Macfarlane trying to keep all his subjects in balance: he is writing about Thomas, about himself, about himself tracking Thomas, about paths in general and in particular. 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.
 

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Macfarlaneprimary authorall editionscalculated
McMillan, RoyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Much has been written of travel, far less of the road.
Edward Thomas, The Icknield Way (1913)
My eyes were in my feet...
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (1977)
Dedication
For Julia, Lily and Tom,
and those who keep the paths open
First words
Two days short of the winter solstice; the turn of the year's tide.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (3)

"In this exquisitely written book, Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge, England, home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads, and sea paths that crisscross both the British landscape and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, and of pilgrimage and ritual. Told in Macfarlane's distinctive voice, 'The Old Ways' folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His walks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird islands of the Scottish northwest, from Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he crosses paths with walkers of many kinds--wanderers, pilgrims, guides, and artists. Above all this is a book about walking as a journey inward and the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move. Macfarlane discovers that paths offer not just a means of traversing space, but of feeling, knowing, and thinking."--Publisher description.

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