The Old Ways

The Old Ways

A Journey on Foot

Book - 2012
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"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.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Viking, 2012
Edition: 1st American ed
Description: xi, 432 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
ISBN: 9780670025114
Branch Call Number: 914.2 McF


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Jan 19, 2021

The first chapter let me know that this would be no quick read. MacFarlane's vocabulary, detailed knowledge and description of his environment and writing style took some getting used to. Once adjusted, however, I became engrossed in the larger arc of his project, entertained by the characters he meets along the way and was curious to know more about the history and present of those areas he describes. His vivid imagery will make you feel as if you've completed the same journeys minus the aches and pains and with much better sleep. Be sure to have both a dictionary and Google Maps handy.

WCL_Kiirstin Jan 15, 2020

Not your usual travelogue, this is more a meditation on walking, history, and language, and the places where they intersect and inform each other. Be prepared that Macfarlane's interest in words and the names for things is in full force here, and some readers may find this slows things down. The rhythm of the book is the rhythm of the walk. I liked it particularly because it was slow and thoughtful and full of wonderful, disused names for things.

ma1co1m Mar 21, 2019

Be sure to keep your shoes handy when reading this. You'll be wanting to get out walking the countryside by the end of each chapter. Guaranteed.

ontherideau Mar 13, 2019

Consider the man who would sail traditional boats along routes suggested by centuries old Gaelic songs. "A song is different every time it is sung and variations of wind, tide, vessel and crew mean that no voyage along a sea route will ever be the same."
This is a slow contemplative book, to be read now and then, letting the words flow into thoughts.

Jan 16, 2019

Guy goes out for a walk in the snow with a jug of whisky then goes home, ruminates on walking trivia and somehow gets a book out of it. Clearly, these are not the good old days of the Romantic Age when guys like Wordsworth would go on walkabout and come home with Tintern Abbey but of course Wordy was walking in the Lake District, which may give itself more easily to the kind of rapture sought. This book is too earnest to be a complete stinker it is a bore. There are so many better poets and writers. Read 'em instead.

Dec 22, 2015

I read this with envy for one who has the ability, time & funds to take off on these walks. It satisfied me with the variety, especially the Doggerland & Broomway area so steeped in history; the Icknield Way, Hebrides; the walks in Palestine/Israel I'd never get to. I guess I'd have to check his other books for The Great Glen Way & somewhat disappointed no mention of Loch Nagar - only in my dreams.

Oct 21, 2015

Indeed, as others have commented, there is something poetic about the writing, but in the end....well, I didn't get to the end, as I got bored with the meanderings of the writing itself. Also, the title is a bit misleading, as not all the journeys are on foot. One of the "ways" is on a waterway.

SchroederTribe Aug 20, 2015

I could quite happily populate any social media account with quotes from this book. The beauty of walking, the history of walking, the socio-economic aspects of walking, the health of walking, the literature on walking are all lyrically and beautiful covered in this meditation. There is no other way that we can so literally walk in the paths of our ancestors.

ChristchurchLib Apr 08, 2013

"In this "masterful, poetic travel narrative" (Kirkus Reviews), acclaimed British author Robert Macfarlane recounts his walking explorations via the "old ways," examining ancient footpaths, roads, and sea paths. He draws on a wide variety of intriguing subjects, including literature, natural history, and cartography, to illuminate various landscapes in Great Britain (the chalk downs of south England, the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, etc.) and in other countries (occupied territory in Palestine, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and sacred regions of the Himalayas). Using rich but readable prose, Macfarlane meditates on people - (he meets a lot of them) and the paths they tread in this 3rd in a loose trilogy (after Mountains of the Mind and The Wild Places), which is a perfect read for wondering wanderers." April 2013 Armchair Travel newsletter

Jan 27, 2013

Excellent addition to the growing library of "the new nature writing" (as Granta titled an issue a few years ago). Macfarlane is an admirer of many other landscape writers, particularly Edward Thomas; like Thomas, his is particularly poetic style of writing, but not so much that the flavour of the narrated experience is diluted. Highly recommended.


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Sep 08, 2013

My legs preserved the ghost sense of stride, the muscle memory of repeated action, and twitched forwards even as I rested. My feet felt oddly dented in their soles, as if the terrain over which I had passed had imprinted its own profile into my foot like a mark knuckled into soft clay. How had Flann O'Brien put it in The Third Policeman? 'When you walk, the continual crackling of your feet on the road makes a certain quantity of road come up into you.'

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