39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 23 June 2012
This book is a joy to read, endlessly entertaining, informative, quirky, fun and funny. It describes a 400 mile walk along the prehistoric Icknield Way from Dorset to the Wash, weaving seamlessly together landscape, history, archaeology, literature, art, agriculture, and personal reminiscence. The author shows us around many prehistoric sites starting from 3700 BC, sometimes using imaginative methods to gain access denied to the general public, but he also keeps us up to date with modern England, not least through conversations with a diverse cast of characters from all types and levels of society, many of whom are personal friends of considerable interest. He is not too complimentary about aristocrats, but complains that they "can often charm" him "into submission". He says it is "emphatically not a guidebook". Think of it more as a travel companion. Hugh wears lightly a lot of learning and shares it chattily. At the Norfolk end of the walk, he introduces us to two recently uncovered Bronze Age sites: Seahenge (2049 BC) and Flag Fen (between 2000 and 1350 BC), and reveals that more land was farmed during the Bronze Age than at any other time in our history and Britain was "at the top of the European commodities market". He debunks the view that the Romans came and woke us up. "It is as if Peruvian history began only when the Spaniards arrived, for they, like the Romans, were the first to write anything down." Hugh has been described as "a writer who explores" rather than the other way round. He started life as a film maker, and has written widely on South America and other parts of the world. He sees connections that would evade most others even if they had the relevant knowledge. Who else would compare climbing (and filming) Kilimanjaro with trudging up the Wittenham Clumps? And if you doubt this unusual penchant, look up "Archaeologists" in the index. It says "see minicab drivers".
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2012
Hugh Thomson writes with a sense of humour and a sense of perspective at the England off the beaten track, or more specifically on the Icknield Way (an ancient road from Dorset to Norfolk). This delightful book should be read by walkers everywhere however as Thomson captures the spirit of a more historic (or even pre-historic) and rural England. As well as QI like interesting facts the book is also littered with some attractive illustations. An excellent book to read on a holiday in England, or give as a gift.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2012
Hugh Thomson takes a trip along the Icknield Way from Dorset to Norfolk, following an ancient path which links dozens of natural and man-made points of interest. His comprehensive account of pre and post Roman sites along the way is fascinating and reveals that the past is very much still with us. Thomson's background in archaeology and English literature shines through his writing as he enhances an already beautiful landscape with expertise and elegance. Highly recommended and a great way to complement a very British summer.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2013
Some people are said to wear their learning lightly. Hugh Thomson is not one of those people, and therein lies the problem with 'The Green Road Into The Trees'. In part this book succeeds as an informative and thought-provoking diary of a walk along the Icknield Way from Dorset to the East Coast. Literary and historical links to the landscape traversed are liberally and sometimes interestingly placed (rather than woven) into the narrative. It's interesting and amusing at times, but ultimately the author comes across as rather smug and self-absorbed, desperate to impress the reader with his knowledge and all round general 'hipness'. If I encountered Hugh Thomson on a walk, I'd like to think I'd buy him a pint, but on balance I think I'd hide in the ditch!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2012
Thomson undertakes a walk along the route of the Ichnield Way, an ancient path probably around 3000 - 5000 years old in parts.
He starts in Abbotsbury in Dorset, at the far end of the Fleet, and crosses Dorset and Wiltshire continually passing hill forts, barrows, mound, stone circles and other glimpses of prehistoric and bronze age life in this country. The journey takes him across the country to Norfolk where he end his walk at the place where Seahenge was excavated from.
I quite enjoyed it, as it combined some of my favourite subjects, history and travel, and the writing is effortless to read. He also looks back at his life, following a painful divorce, and of friends past, and journeys traveled. I think that took a little away from the essence of the book, but still glad I have read it.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 25 June 2012
The Green Road Into The Trees is a refreshing book which rejoices in the spirit of the English countryside. Thomson refers to various other writers' work on the natural history of the Icknield Way as he appreciates the wildlife and scenery along his journey. More impressive though is his knowledge of historic sites - Stonehenge, the horse at Uffington, Avebury and Seahenge and dozens more - as well as the way they have shaped their surroundings. An excellent read for those interested in the increasingly popular 'staycation' and a fabulous way to celebrate the natural beauty and history of England, right on our doorstep. What with the likes of London and other cities becoming global and fragmented, Thomson directly and indirectly argues that there is still an England - of traditions, poetry, eccentricity - in the countryside.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Walking is (or at least was) a bit of national obsession in England - the after dinner walk, the Sunday walk in the sea air, the brisker pleasures of the Lakes, or moors and Downs. The last two books I have read reflect this passion.
The first - The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot - is a mediation on walking itself, while this book is a more conventional journey on foot along the Ikcnield Way. But the similarities do not end there: both books walk some of the same physical ground, both books refer to the poet Edward Thomas frequently and both are keenly interested in the way we (or our long gone ancestors) place ourselves in a landscape, and both are clearly written from a position of considerable knowledge and understanding.
But both books as also very different.
This book follows a slow and meandering journey along the whole length of the Ikcnield way from the Dorset coast to the edge of East Anglia - a walk through an English summer, spent under clear skies and dotted with Iron and Bronze age sites. The authors depth of knowledge of the archaeology of the Way shines through on almost every page - and the book is at its best when he is conjuring images from past. This is not to say that his observations of on the current state of England are poor. It's just that just that the modern sections tend towards accounts of people wearing funny hats and saying strange things.
These sections are well written and often funny, but they do feel conventional. This compares to the sections that are rooted in the past, where the author manages to summon a sense of place that locates the landscape both in the present and the past. The descriptions of the "tactical" location of hill forts is a great example of showing how people from long gone civilisations were capable planning in great sophistication - their technology may have been simple compared to ours, but their thinking was not.
In the end its the sophistication of old civilisations that populated the route of the Icknield Way that shines through this book.
While the book is basically a conventional account of journey many have taken before, it manages to be both informative, novel and entertaining.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2013
Hugh Thomson's The Green Road Into The Trees is a remarkable book about his journey across England from Dorset to Norfolk.
Tracing loosely an ancient road, The Ickneild Way, Thomson uncovers the hidden local histories of England and the changes to the way we live. He celebrates life. He writes about highs and lows, geographical and human. About law making and lawlessness.
For retailers seeking to be at the heart of their communities this is a manual on what belonging is about. The rural memory, he notes, is both very short and very long.
This following observation within a conversation with countryman David Hughes in Oxfordshire is typical of the quality of Thomson's thought and writing.
"Over his cup of tea and morning cigarello, David talks about the changes he has seen in the countryside. He think it's too easy to make the usual assumptions about how 'it's all commuters now and the heart has gone out of the villages'. That needs to be qualified by 'some villages', as I've noticed myself.
" 'You get places where the church is now open only one day a month, the pub has to be run by agency management, if it's open at all, and despite a perfectly good primary in the village, the locals send their children to private schools outside.'
"And yet, as David points out, the next door village may have a thriving pub, allotments, cricket team, well-attended school and that ultimate rosette for the community-minded, a small shop run by local volunteers. The difference can be minimal - a few energetic and strong-minded individuals, a village layout that is more than just a strip alongside a road and something more intangible, which if I were less agnostic I would describe as its soul."
This is a fine description of what distinguishes a great local shop from an ordinary one. The drive and energy of a shopkeeper who has chosen his location well.
As he walks, cycles and swims across England, Thomson demonstrates the beauty that lies just outside our towns, often unseen. He explains how economics and the law have shaped the countryside.
There are two ways to read this book. You can dip in and grab the parts that interest you. Or you can share his journey, his ramblings on his own failed marriage and university years and travels in Peru and India. This is a collection of stories about what it is to be alive in England, one of the most beautiful places on earth.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2014
Landscape as life: the Icknield Way as a procession of seasons in Man’s existence: historical and modern aspirations, the mundane and the magnificent, stratified within a layer cake of ages. On his time traveller’s path the author stitches together the past and the present where occasionally we sit down while he opens an album of absorbing personal memories, bringing to life people we wish we had met for ourselves. His poetic voice perhaps reveals an undercurrent of regret that laments the loss of certain values in the way we live now but his frontal cortex admits that change can be exciting. However there is no preaching here. These are the observations of a man who loves the world and isn’t hamstrung by the oppression of artificially exaggerated sensibilities and the debilitating self-censorship which that can impose. Usually peering under the shell off foreign cultures the author turns his attention to us, the way we lived once and the way are now, with a glance at himself in the context of his own landscape along the way. For me the path connected places I have known to those I didn’t, as indeed it did for the author himself. By the end of the walk he is tired and ready for another foreign adventure and, in a sense, walks away with half a wave, his mind already somewhere else. Should there be a lesson to learn after all this? Of course not. Or is it that the path itself is enough?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2013
If you enjoy walking, are interested in people, and appreciate connecting with the history of the landscape which surrounds you then I highly recommend you read this engaging book. Hugh Thomson has a wanderlust and, on returning to England from Peru, decides to investigate the history on his doorstep; immediately setting off on to walk the Icknield Way, an ancient drove road running 400 miles across England, from Abbotsbridge, Dorset to Holme next the Sea in Norfolk. The Icknield Way is not one of those, well signed "long distance footpaths" that now form National Trails. It is a varying route, requiring some research and it has, in part, been forgotten that the way gave access to central England well before London became the central hub. Robert Macfarlane, a very bookish walker I love to read, has walked the route from East to West - written of in The Old Ways - as he followed in the footsteps of the poet, Edward Thomas who wrote of walking the Icknield Way in 1913.
Hugh Thomson walks the route from the other end and writes with warmth, wit and knowledge as he weaves together archaeology, literature, art and history with people, place and personal reminiscence. With an easy lightness of touch he takes us with him in his free spirited explorations and is wonderful company. As the FT review puts it "I love to read Macfarlane.. I would love to walk with Thomson".