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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
1,6505410,805 (3.98)159
"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 159 mentions

English (52)  Dutch (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
A personal journey along forgotten pathways through England, written in a literate style. ( )
  sfj2 | Jun 1, 2024 |
This is a book to read slowly, and to savour. Robert Macfarlane is a man to whom walking is more than an enjoyable pastime. It informs his life. He walks the ancient pathways of England, of Europe, of the world. He considers what paths mean to our history and our topography.

He looks at paths that are not paths as most of us understand them: passages on the sea. It interested me to think about his idea of reversing our usual take on maps, and to empty the landmass of routeways in favour of populating the sea with them. In this way we gain a greater understanding of very ancient peoples - back to the Bronze Age and beyond - who realised that with the wind behind you, then unthinkable distances could easily be covered. Distant seaboards exchanged goods and culture in a way such people would not have done with their landward neighbours. But he's equally fascinating in Spain, in Palestine,in Tibet, but most of all in his beloved British Isles. This is where he ends his book, ruminating about depressive poet and keen walker Edward Thomas' life and final days in the Great War.

If you enjoy walking - and even if you don't - this will change your mindset about the way you view the paths you travel. ( )
  Margaret09 | Apr 15, 2024 |
I feel as though this book would be more enjoyable if I had even minor personal experience of any of the places he write of. As it is, so much of the book is adjective-laden descriptions of the landscapes through which he is passing. The best parts are the stories of the people he meets or travels with. Those, at least, I found relatable.
[Audiobook note: The reader, Robin Sachs, does amagnificent job. Welsh, Scots, French, Spanish, Arabic, German, and maybe some others I don't remember: Sachs nails the pronunciation of placenames. And he adds just enough of an accent for the persons populating the narrative to make them come alive, without dropping into charicature.] ( )
  Treebeard_404 | Jan 23, 2024 |
Prose that is almost poetry, fact that edges on the fantastic, and an homage to an earlier perambulating writer, Edward Thomas. macFarlane takes you with him deep into the landscapes he walks by supreme attention to the smallest details. He paints his pictures with absolutely novel descriptions and unexpected comparisons. And the vocabulary! This man loves his words and uses them well. Some of the old, arcane English just flows into you, even without prior knowledge of word meanings. (There’s a glossary at the back) Wish I’d known that from the start! ( )
  BBrookes | Nov 17, 2023 |
While I currently read Anna Karenina I was trying to read this nonfiction which I have decided today to abandon after 100 pages (out of 364) as it is not the book I hoped it would be when I purchased it. I found this book after a google search for the best travelogues and this was consistently on the best of lists. (I think I will stop looking up best of lists after a couple failures: for example, the best novella list I found where I didn't like any of the books that were recommended.)

The blurb was incredibly intriguing which is why I went ahead with the internet recommendation:
Following the tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes criss-crossing the British Isles and beyond, Robert Macfarlane discovers a lost world -- a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts; above all, of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations.

My issue with this book is that it's not personal enough. I was hoping for MacFarlane to embark on a long walking journey through the British Isles and have him discover these wonderful paths for us, and to share the beauty he explores while sharing his exploits.

But it feels more like a history of path-exploring itself with mostly references to the work of other people, only barely interspersed with his own journeys, that aren't presented in any linear fashion. When he does talk about himself it's full of wit and a fun bit of humor and we definitely see his sense of adventure, as well as his fairly stupid dismissal of any concept of preparation and self-preservation.

But I wanted more of that and didn't get it. I found my eyes skimming through all the other bits to get to his parts but even then it ended up not being enough to keep my attention. Pity.

Also, a couple of maps would have been a much needed addition to this book as there is nothing to help us locate him. ( )
  lilisin | Mar 11, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (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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