Best Book: The Poetry of Paths in ‘The Old Ways’

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'The Old Ways' by Robert McFarlane

The New York Times has released its 10 Best Books of 2012 and one of them stands out as a winner for lovers of travel literature.

‘The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot’ by Robert Macfarlane meanders around the world on well-worn routes, such as the Camino de Santiago, through the Himalayas and the Palestinian territories, and to walking paths closer to MacFarlane’s home and heart. While I have not read this book – in fact, I’d not heard of it until this week – I am motivated to purchase it or present it to a travel-minded friend after reading the NYT review:

To describe Macfarlane as a philosopher of walking is to undersell the achievement of “The Old Ways”: his prose feels so firmly grounded, resistant to abstraction. He wears his polymath intelligence lightly as his mind roams across geology, archaeology, fauna, flora, architecture, art, literature and urban design, retrieving small surprises everywhere he walks. In one such passage, he notes the power of what urban planners call “desire lines,” in which one person’s impulsive shortcut encourages others to follow, creating informal, unmapped channels through a city. Macfarlane is likewise fascinated by what geologists have termed “preferential pathways,” grooves carved by the solvent action of water on limestone. Those pathways in turn pull in pedestrians, “all of whom etch the track of their passage with their feet as they go. In this way the path of a raindrop hundreds of thousands of years ago may determine the route of a modern-­day walker.”

Purchase Robert MacFarlane’s “The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot” on Amazon.


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