The Old Ways

In these days of restricted horizons and lowering cloud, Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways may well be the perfect antidote. It takes us on a quest to other places and other times, and like all the best quests, one that goes inside as well as out.

The book describes a series of journeys on foot by the author, following the tracks of ancient wanderers on paths which have been trodden, often, for thousands of years. At the same time it’s an account of the landscape, and the weather, of myth and folklore, of old ghosts and new demons, of philosophy, and the magical aspects of nature that binds all these things together.

The act of walking – the heartbeat of feet upon the ground, the wind in the face – is a meditative process that allows seeing with new eyes. It provides a connection with the deep past, and it allows us to travel far inside for understanding of who we are and what binds us to those who have gone.

Macfarlane’s powerful poetic prose takes us along with him, to the most dangerous path in Britain, off the Essex coast, which only appears briefly on the mudflats at low tide, along the prehistoric route across the South Downs, through the Scottish Highlands, and even to the Middle East.

His description of a terrifying, perhaps supernatural, event one night while sleeping in Chanctonbury Ring captures the mystical atmosphere that seeps into every votive trek.

I finished reading The Old Ways while in lockdown, where my whole world was a house and a garden, and for a brief time there were no boundaries at all.

2 thoughts on “The Old Ways”

  1. Great post Mark, thanks for sharing. You’ve made it sound like a magical journey.
    I totally get the heartbeat of feet upon the ground and the wind in the face. Last year, I signed up to do Walk 1000 miles, a national initiative, headed up by Country Walking Magazine, and quite honestly, it was the best thing I did. I completed my miles in November and felt happier and healthier for it in both mind and body. I made friends and I appreciated nature more so than ever before.

    I signed up again this year, however, I’m unsure I’ll reach the target this time. No matter though, I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if it is mostly just around the back garden listening to Audible.

    Thank goodness we have words to read or listen to as reading is truly the best form of escapism in these lock down days, closely followed by writing, but I can’t quite get my head around anything other that some very short flash fiction right now. Ah well maybe the gin will help me with that later.

    Happy Easter!

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