The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot [NOOK Book]


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 ...
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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

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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 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.
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Editorial Reviews

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."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101601075
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/11/2012
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 159,558
  • File size: 4 MB

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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Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Part I Tracking (England)

1 Track 3

2 Path 11

3 Chalk 35

4 Silt 57

Part II Following (Scotland)

5 Water - South 85

6 Water - North 117

7 Peat 139

8 Gneiss 167

9 Granite 183

Part III Roaming (Abroad)

10 Limestone 209

11 Roots 233

12 Ice 259

Part IV Homing (England)

13 Snow 289

14 Flint 305

15 Ghost 331

16 Print 357

Glossary 365

Notes 375

Select Bibliography 395

Acknowledgements 409

Index of Selected Topics 413

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 1, 2013

    I've been walking everyday for 32 years. It's become both how I

    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. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 29, 2012

    You'll want to head for the closest trailhead when you're done with this book!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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