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Have you read Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways? I was lucky enough to receive a surprise copy through the post, sent by Miss CK in her valiant attempt to keep me going through the Lockdowns. It is a book about the landscape, amazing ancient paths all over the world even at sea, abundant flora, weather in all its forms, walking, looking, persevering, meeting like-minded people, collaboration, art, poetry, imagination.
Here are five things I enjoyed about the book.
1. Whilst travelling along the sandstone paths around Chideock in Dorset with his friend Roger Deakin, they talked about the many stories relating to previous users of the ancient sunken roads or holloways back through the centuries. With the stories seeming to take place in front of their eyes, the paths came alive. Two years later his friend had died unexpectedly and two years after that, Robert returned to the same holloways '. . . and found myself tracking our own earlier traces - the holly bush from which we'd cut our sticks, the field selvedge where we'd camped for a night - and experiencing startlingly clear memory-glimpses of Roger himself, seen at the turn of a corner or ahead of me on the path.'
They had added their own story to the path along with all the other tales. I love this idea of a path being like a library of stories made by all the people that used it.
2. The Chapter called Silt introduced me to a path called The Broomway, an offshore path on the Essex coastline. It leaves a place called Wakering Stairs and heads straight out to sea. After several hundred yards offshore, it turns north east for 3 miles before turning again to land at Fisherman's Head. I had to get the maps out and sure enough, there it is.
I enjoyed, with trepidation, hearing about this dangerous path, which is at the mercy of the tides and walkers need to be aware not to fall foul of sinking sands and mud.
3. Ice was fascinating. I hadn't heard about foot plinths before - footprints not pressed into the snow but raised up to form pedestals about 3 or 4 inches high. Snow is compacted under the pressure of a footstep but the softer snow around it is scoured away by the wind until the footprint stands in relief!
4. Then there's The Library of the Forest created by Miguel Angel Bianco in Madrid - hundreds of wooden boxes all open at their outward facing end, within each one was a linen covered book spine relating to a journey made, along with items collected on the journey like rocks, acorns, leaves. I can really relate to this.
5. I can't decide whether to mention the section about Artist Eric Ravilious and his love of the chalky South Downs or mention the wildflower meadows. There, I've mentioned them both!
One of the things I've enjoyed about this book has been the way many of my favourite discoveries through life have been brought together. I'll finish off with another quote from the book.
'In one field, ragwort seethed with cinnabar-moth caterpillars. Another field was pink with bursts of mallow, thrust up from the turf like magician's sprays of false flowers. Tractor tracks swooped and arced between them.' You can just see this all so clearly, can't you.
You need all your maps and the Internet about you when you read it!