The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

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by Robert Macfarlane
     
 

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The acclaimed author of The Wild Places examines the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move

In this exquisitely written book, which folds together natural history, cartography, geology, and literature, Robert Macfarlane sets off to follow the ancient routes that crisscross both the landscape of the British Isles and its

Overview

The acclaimed author of The Wild Places examines the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move

In this exquisitely written book, which folds together natural history, cartography, geology, and literature, Robert Macfarlane sets off to follow the ancient routes that crisscross both the landscape of the British Isles and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the voices that haunt old paths and the stories our tracks tell. Macfarlane’s journeys 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. He matches strides with the footprints made by a man five thousand years ago near Liverpool, sails an open boat far out into the Atlantic at night, and commingles with walkers of many kinds, discovering that paths offer a means not just of traversing space but also of feeling, knowing, and thinking.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Old Ways:

“With a steady command of the literature and history of each place he visits, [Macfarlane] tries ‘to read landscapes back into being.’ His sentences bristle with the argot of cartographers, geologists, zoologists, and botanists.” —The New Yorker

                                                                            

“Macfarlane explores the meditative aspects of being a pedestrian…not so much a travelogue as a travel meditation, it favors lush prose, colorful digressions…if you’ve ever had the experience, while walking, of an elusive thought finally coming clear or an inspiration surfacing after a long struggle, The Old Ways will speak to you – eloquently and persuasively.” —The Seattle Times

                                                                             
“A backpack of assorted expeditions charted by a writer whose poetic and scientific skills are equal to one another…there are some splendid set pieces.” —The Wall Street Journal

                                                                               
“A wonderfully meandering account of the author’s peregrinations and perambulations through England, Scotland, Spain, Palestine, and Sichuan…Macfarlane’s particular gift is his ability to bring a remarkably broad and varied range of voices to bear on his own pathways and to do so with a pleasingly impressionist yet tenderly precise style.” —Aengus Woods, themillions.com

"Macfarlane seems to know and have read everything…his every sentence rewrites the landscape in language crunchy and freshly minted and deeply textured. Surely the most accomplished (and erudite) writer on place to have come along in years." —Pico Iyer

"Luminous, possessing a seemingly paradoxical combination of the dream-like and the hyper-vigilant, The Old Ways is, as with all of Macfarlane's work, a magnificent read. Each sentence can carry astonishing discovery." —Rick Bass

 
“In Macfarlane, British travel writing has a formidable new champion… Macfarlane is read above all for the beauty of his prose and his wonderfully innovative and inventive way with language…he can write exquisitely about anywhere.” —William Dalrymple, The Observer

“In this intricate, sensuous, haunted book, each journey is part of other journeys and there are no clear divisions to be made…the walking of paths is, to [Macfarlane], an education, and symbolic, too, of the very process by which we learn things: testing, wandering about a bit, hitting our stride, looking ahead and behind.” —Alexandra Harris, The Guardian

The New York Times Book Review
…an iconoclastic blend of natural history, travel writing and much more…To describe Macfarlane as a philosopher of walking is to undersell the achievement of The Old Ways: his prose feels so firmly grounded, resistant to abstraction. He wears his polymath intelligence lightly as his mind roams across geology, archaeology, fauna, flora, architecture, art, literature and urban design, retrieving small surprises everywhere he walks…Macfarlane has given us a gorgeous book about physical movement and the movement of memory, one that resounds with stories told to "the beat of the placed and lifted foot."
—Rob Nixon
Publishers Weekly
This scintillating travelogue is a celebration of well-worn footpaths and ancient sea routes. Naturalist MacFarlane (The Wild Places) traipses across Britain via Stone-Age trails, sand flats that briefly emerge between daily tides, and sea lanes to the Hebridean Isles. He ventures abroad into the bullet-strewn hills of the West Bank and follows a pilgrimage route in Spain. Along the way, the author meets artists, poets, farmers, sea-bird hunters, and adventurers, each with stories to tell and idiosyncratic attitudes toward the terrain ahead. MacFarlane writes with a discerning eye and an immediacy that immerses us in his surroundings—whether a delicately misty shore, a seemingly chaotic field of rocks that reveals hidden patterns, or a holy Himalayan mountain that makes him " up, neck cricked and mouth bashed open at the beauty of it all." MacFarlane strikes a fine balance between lyrical nature writing and engrossing scholarship that makes him the ideal walking companion. (Oct. 15)
Library Journal
Walking is an intimate way to experience a landscape because it proceeds at a pace that lets travelers contemplate nature, history, and self. In his travels around Great Britain and other countries, Macfarlane (English, Univ. of Cambridge; The Wild Places) follows a variety of old paths (called "ways") on both land and sea, some that date back thousands of years. This highly readable narrative weaves together landscape, local history and myth, art, literature, natural history, ritual, and the internal dialog familiar to any who have spent time alone in nature. The people he meets and the places he visits are luminous and extraordinary in the retelling as Macfarlane explores the idea of place and of self as well as the close relationship between the two. The book closes with a brief biography of fellow path walker and author Edward Thomas (1878–1917), from whom Macfarlane draws inspiration throughout the work. VERDICT The author's love of the land and his elegant use of metaphor make for a moving book that anyone who loves being part of nature will treasure.—Sheila Kasperek, North Hall Lib., Mansfield Univ. of PA
Kirkus Reviews
Macfarlane (English/Cambridge Univ.; The Wild Places, 2008, etc.) returns with another masterful, poetic travel narrative. The author's latest, focusing broadly on the concept of walking, forms what he calls "a loose trilogy," with his two earlier books, Mountains of the Mind and The Wild Places, "about landscape and the human heart." As in his previous books, it seems nearly impossible that a writer could combine so many disparate elements into one sensible narrative. It's ostensibly a first-person travelogue (of England, Spain, Palestine, Tibet and other locales), combined with biographical sketches (such as that of poet Edward Thomas, who died on a battlefield in France in 1917) and historical anecdotes about a wide variety of subjects (e.g., a set of 5,000-year-old footprints made by a family along the coastline just north of Liverpool). In the hands of a lesser writer, these divergent ideas would almost certainly result in unreadable chaos, but Macfarlane effortlessly weaves them together under the overarching theme of "walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move." While this notion may seem abstract, the author's resonant prose brings it to life--whether he is writing about the mountains of Tibet, where a half-frozen stream is "halted mid-leap in elaborate forms of yearning," or the mountains of Scotland to which he returned for his grandfather's funeral, where he found "moonlight shimmering off the pine needles and pooling in the tears of resin wept by the pines." A breathtaking study of "walking as enabling sight and thought rather than encouraging retreat and escape."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780147509796
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/24/2013
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
253,690
Product dimensions:
5.28(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.85(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
 
Praise for The Old Ways

“A gorgeous book about physical movement and the movement of memory…To describe Macfarlane as a philosopher of walking is to undersell the achievement of The Old Ways; his prose feels so firmly grounded, resistant to abstraction.  He wears his polymath intelligence lightly as his mind roams across geology, archeology, fauna, flora, architecture, art, literature and urban design, retrieving small surprises everywhere he walks.” The New York Times Book Review
                                                                              

“With a steady command of the literature and history of each place he visits, [Macfarlane] tries ‘to read landscapes back into being.’ His sentences bristle with the argot of cartographers, geologists, zoologists, and botanists.” The New Yorker

                                                                             
“A quiet, serious book, purposeful and carefully made, and, as always with Macfarlane, written in a prose at once so thick and rich you want to sink into it bodily and so fresh it threatens to bear you aloft.” —slate.com

"Macfarlane seems to know and have read everything, he steadily walks and climbs through places that most of us would shy away from and his every sentence rewrites the landscape in language crunchy and freshly minted and deeply textured. Surely the most accomplished (and erudite) writer on place to have come along in years." —Pico Iyer
 
 

"Luminous, possessing a seemingly paradoxical combination of the dream-like and the hyper-vigilant, The Old Ways is, as with all of Macfarlane's work, a magnificent read. Each sentence can carry astonishing discovery." —Rick Bass
 
 

“In Macfarlane, British travel writing has a formidable new champion… Macfarlane is read above all for the beauty of his prose and his wonderfully innovative and inventive way with language…he can write exquisitely about anywhere.”—William Dalrymple, The Observer
 
 

“[An] extraordinary book…it has made me feel that I myself am always walking some eternal track, sharing its pleasures and hardships with unaccountable others, treading its immemorial footprints, linking me with all the generations of man and beast, and connecting in particular the visionary author of the book, as he unrolls his sleeping bag beneath the stars, with this bemused reviewer beside the fire.”—Jan Morris, The Telegraph
 
 

“Every Robert MacFarlane book offers beautiful writing, bold journeys, and an introduction to places and authors you have never heard of before but wish you had always known about. But The Old Ways is different: somehow larger, more subtle, lingering in the mind and body just a bit stronger. With its global reach and mysterious Sebaldian structure, this is MacFarlane’s most important book yet.” —David Rothenberg
 
 

“In this intricate, sensuous, haunted book, each journey is part of other journeys and there are no clear divisions to be made…the walking of paths is, to [Macfarlane], an education, and symbolic, too, of the very process by which we learn things:  testing, wandering about a bit, hitting our stride, looking ahead and behind.” —Alexandra Harris, The Guardian
 
 

“[Macfarlane] is gripped by a vision of the earth as a network of paths, dating from far back in prehistory…from the very first page…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.” —John Carey, The Sunday Times
 
 

“A book about what we put into landscape, and what it puts into us. If you submit to its spell you finish it in different shape than you set out:  a bit wiser, a bit lonelier, a bit happier, a whole lot better informed.” —Sam Leith, The Spectator

 
 

Meet the Author

Robert Macfarlane is a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and has contributed to the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, and Harper’s as well as the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. He lives in Cambridge, England.

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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Davidinwonderland More than 1 year ago
I've been walking everyday for 32 years. It's become both how I think and how I meditate. In Robert Macfarlane  I've discovered a friend to walk with. 
Carl_in_Richland More than 1 year ago
I greatly enjoyed this book for two reasons. First, it is filled with beautiful writing that conveys factual content in a style that is almost poetic. The writing is rich and gorgeous in conveying the author’s appreciation of the many places he visits and the people with whom he both travels with and encounters. Speaking as someone who has done several long-distance walks in England, I could easily relate to many of the details contained in his essays. At the end of each narrative I felt as though I had finished a walk with Mr. Macfarlane, having recollections of the smell of sea salt on beach ambles, the bite of mountain air during his visit to Tibet and an intimate knowledge of the many interesting people he encountered on these walks (this is one of my favorite aspects of walking). Macfarlane’s book belongs on the bookshelf of anybody who enjoys walking or exploring. A glossary of technical terms (how often do you use words like chorton or hodology in your everyday speech?) is presented as an appendix, but I’ve seldom read a book with a richer non-technical lexicon than this one, and wish now I’d kept a list of the many new words encountered. But be warned…this book can easily lead to a sudden urge to put down your readings and head out the door for the nearest trailhead, park or country road. That’s a great flaw to have in any book on walking or exploration.
Brit_Fan_Kim More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and have subsequently purchased and devoured Mr. Macfarlane's other books, "Wild Places" and "Mountains of the Mind". There is a lyrical poetry to his writing with descriptions and details that pull you along on the trails with him. He opened my eyes to the nature that surrounds me in every day life, just outside my office, on the commute to work, in my own backyard, but most of all he transported me to England and Scotland. I came to love his stories of Roger Deakin and purchased Deakin's "Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees". I loved it so much that I went back and re-read The Old Ways and Macfarlane's tribute to Roger Deakin. There is a sense of time travel in this book a connection to places and people in the past who forged the paths, to the present with each step and Lark song and to the future generations that may travel along such by-ways. I've enjoyed learning of" footplinths" and eoliths of gannets and phragmites. It holds a special place in my heart in memory of my father. During his last days I read my father passages from this book. We bonded over our love of nature so it brought him great peace and tranquility as the words flow and travel and delight. I look forward to may more books by Mr. Macfarlane and may more discoveries of other nature writers that he's introduced me to. I hope that you will enjoy what I did in the Old Ways and discover the magical bioluminescence in one of it's chapters.
Swampgal2 More than 1 year ago
Every planner in the US should read this book. We need paths, many many more paths.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago