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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Green Road Into The Trees
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2012
Thomson has a real facility for invoking the English landscape - its shapes, depths and humours. If you've already travelled the green roads and have felt their magnetism, or if you just have an urge to know more about the mysteries wrapped up in ancient lanes and holloways, here's the companion you need at your elbow.
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on 9 February 2014
The Green Road Into The Trees: An Exploration of England, is a fascinating exploration of the wellworn truism that coming home is harder than leaving. There is a wonderful irony to this seasoned traveller (and great populariser of Andean archaeology whose The White Rock and Cochineal Red are both superb reads) discovering the quiet understated oddness of rural England: his journey is in part inspired by the bizarre nature of a gloriously observed fete in his home village.

Having lost his driving license and experiencing something of a mid-life crisis, Thomson sets out to walk the four hundred mile pre-Roman Icknield Way, crossing England from Dorset to Norfolk by way of a series of prehistoric ritual sites. He talks, unselfconsciously and with grace, to the people he meets along the way, from farmers and poachers to a party of unreconstructed 1970s pagans who he finds blamelessly forming a circle in a sun-dappled clearing in the woods. Applying his trademark style, a blend of academic archaelogical findings, local colour and Boys Own adventure, the Icknield Way becomes for him a ribbon tying the past and present of England together. He walks side by side with the prehistoric peoples of Britain, journeying between their great temples into the deep past. He is scathing on the stupidity of modern nostalgic schemes such as Poundbury in their attempts to evoke a past which never existed; he is appalled by rural poverty and deprivation and he discusses ideas of English nationalism with a historian’s perspective.

A pleasant co-walker, Thomson perhaps dwells a little too much on his own personal problems, but never at the expense of the countryside he explores or the people he evokes so clearly. The English countryside unfolds in a manner strangely reminiscent of those great early 20th century children’s books – it would not be at all surprising to come across William Brown larking in the mud anywhere on Thomson’s walk. He takes along with him (representing a great tradition of writing about the English countryside) the works of the poet Edward Thomas, who travelled the same way in 1913 and who wrote of an England still unknown to many people: "there is nothing beyond the furthest of far ridges except a signpost to unknown places".
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on 10 January 2013
Having read and enjoyed Hugh's previous books, The White Rock (expeditions in Peru), Nanda Devi (exploring Nepal's lost Sanctuary) and Tequila Oil (his 18 year old self in Mexico), I was keen to see how he would navigate England's green and pleasant land. Beginning in Dorset and finishing 400 miles later in Norfolk, via the Icknield Way, Hugh intelligently, humorously and interestingly melds together this country's ancient past with more contemporary goings-on. His reading of this strategically important pathway and surrounding landscape, and the comparisons he draws to Peru's topographically-inspired Inca civilisation, puts a refreshing and lateral new perspective on England's early history.
However, I think The Green Road Into The Trees is much more than a travelogue, or history or nature book. For me it was an exploration of Englishness rather than England. At the core of the book is Hugh's evocation and understanding of his own Englishness, from his town and country upbringing through his time at Cambridge studying English Literature and working for the most English of institutions - the BBC - to his move back to the Thames-side countryside of his youth following a difficult divorce, and his consequent re-acquaintance with rural England.
The Green Road has (unfairly) been categorised with other writing about this country's old pathways, tracks and roads, such as Robert MacFarlane's The Old Ways, but Hugh's exploration of the Icknield Way is simply the book's richly woven thread, and his point of departure for a deeper, and more present engagement with England and Englishness.
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on 18 February 2014
Outwardly the book is an archaeological, historical, geographical and social guide to one long-distance footpath ( or two for one of the previous reviewers). I guess you could use it as such but having read a number of such guides I found this one to be so much more. Partly the quality of the writing stands out. There is sufficient by way of description but not too much. The accompanying facts are lightly but succinctly used. Thomson manages to make his people and places come alive in the mind of the reader and there is more than a feint filmic quality to some of the observational passages. It also contained a gentle and reflective humour and the detail about the author's family actually add to the humanity of the text. In here is nature, learning and appreciation for the landscape without any dryness, polemic or agenda. If you are looking to purchase a book of this type from your local 'fulfilment centre' then I cannot recommend this more highly.

AGC
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on 17 May 2015
Not a travel guide, but rather more along the lines of "thoughts on the road" as the author treks from Dorset to the the Wash. It's a real page turner, though of course no-one's going to agree with everything; we get some rather snobbish remarks on the "tawdriness" of Dorchester and it's "ugly fascias" on South Street (Hugh, they're called shops, people buy things from them; not everyone makes their living from the media!) and apropos of not very much we get ten pages or so of his undergraduate days at Cambridge, where he comments that he was the Theatre Critic of a student magazine... but it was the UNOFFICIAL student magazine, which must be the lamest attempt at "street cred" imaginable!

But the saving grace is that throughout all of this he cares - this isn't some dry academic treatise, and, best of all, neither is it pretentious; at bottom, you feel he ENJOYED doing this.

Especially the pies.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2012
I enjoyed this book, but there were a few glaring mistakes that niggled me(which might say more about me thatn the quality of the book). Adams Grave was mis-named and why does he refer to the route being the Icknield way, when it is in fact the Ridgeway, and is marked as such all the way to the Goring Gap, where it then becomes the Icknield Way. I also got confused with the timeline. I thought the walk was written as it was done, but he describes the summer solstice in Avebury, but just a few miles on, he can see dafodils growing. Sorry to be pedantic, but these small details did jar with me in what is otherwise an excellent read.
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on 22 October 2014
A really wonderful read from start to finish. A straight path travelled with many diversions into English history, culture and the author's own insights. Makes you want to get out into nature and the great outdoors with a renewed appreciation for what is on your own doorstep. I loved hearing the writer speak their own mind, the sign of an experienced and confident voice, and hearing his point of view, and felt a part of the journey particularly when sharing the small experiences and odd moments. Will definitely be looking out for more of Hugh Thomson's work and recommending this to friends.
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on 25 November 2013
A very well written book, highly engaging and full of unexpected historical insights as well as personal anecdotes. It makes you realise that some familiar landscapes can have a history as colourful and fascinating as more exotic, far flung locations. What's more, many of the evidence is still there to see and experience.
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on 22 July 2013
This book is as much about the writer as about the landscape he travels through, but is an interesting read without being too taxing. Not for those who actually want a blow-by-blow account of the walk across England, it's more of an entertaining read than a history or description of the long-distance footpath he follows.
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on 26 July 2015
I absolutely love this book - it has earned a permanent place on my bedside table (together with 'The Wind In The Willows'). The author really takes you with him on his journey. Beautifully written and well deserving of the Wainwright Prize.
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