The Old Ways is the stunning new book by acclaimed nature writer Robert Macfarlane.
Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize 2012
In The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters, and connecting them to the continents 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, of pilgrimage and ritual, and of songlines and their singers. Above all this is a book about people and place: about walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move.
Told in Macfarlane's distinctive and celebrated voice, the book folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His tracks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird-islands of the Scottish northwest, and from the disputed territories of Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he walks stride for stride with a 5000-year-old man near Liverpool, follows the 'deadliest path in Britain', sails an open boat out into the Atlantic at night, and crosses paths with walkers of many kinds - wanderers, wayfarers, pilgrims, guides, shamans, poets, trespassers and devouts.
He discovers that paths offer not just means of traversing space, but also of feeling, knowing and thinking. The old ways lead us unexpectedly to the new, and the voyage out is always a voyage inwards.
'Really do love it. He has a rare physical intelligence and affords total immersion in place, elements and the passage of time: wonderful' Antony Gormley
'A marvellous marriage of scholarship, imagination and evocation of place. I always feel exhilarated after reading Macfarlane' Penelope Lively
'Macfarlane immerses himself in regions we may have thought familiar, resurrecting them newly potent and sometimes beautifully strange. In a moving achievement, he returns our heritage to us' Colin Thubron
'Every Robert MacFarlane book offers beautiful writing, bold journeys . . . With its global reach and mysterious Sebaldian structure, this is MacFarlane's most important book yet' David Rothenberg, author of Survival of the Beautiful and Thousand Mile Song
'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, US novelist and nature writer
'The Old Ways confirms Robert Macfarlane's reputation as one of the most eloquent and observant of contemporary writers about nature' Scotland on Sunday
'Sublime writing . . . sets the imagination tingling . . . Macfarlane's way of writing [is] free, exploratory, rambling and haphazard but resourceful, individual, following his own whims, and laying an irresistible trail for readers to follow' Sunday Times
'Macfarlane relishes wild, as well as old, places.He writes about both beautifully . . . I love to read Macfarlane' John Sutherland, Financial Times
'Read this and it will be impossible to take an unremarkable walk again' Metro
Robert Macfarlane won the Guardian First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award for his first book, Mountains of the Mind (2003). His second, The Wild Places (2007), was similarly celebrated, winning three prizes and being shortlisted for six more. Both books were adapted for television by the BBC. He is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.