I think I knew I was going to love this book from Macfarlane’s description of it in his author’s note, in which he says the book is about “people and place” and the “relationship between paths, walking and the imagination” and “the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move.” The book is divided into four parts—two set in England, one set in Scotland, and one set in other places “abroad”; within each part, the book is divided into chapters, each of which (mostly) talks about a particular journey Macfarlane took, by foot or by boat. The book is also a way for Macfarlane to think through the work and life of the writer Edward Thomas, who died in 1917 at the Battle of Arras: Macfarlane quotes from and talks about Thomas throughout, and there’s a chapter devoted to him that imagines his time in France, and his death.

Macfarlane’s writing is really great: very observant, very graceful, playful (at the end of the book he talks about “rights of way and rites of way”) and full of detail and lists, both of which I love. Whether Macfarlane is talking about a snowy night-time walk near his home in Cambridge, England or a walk in the West Bank with his friend Raja Shehadeh, in a place with “jasmine, lemon and bougainvillea lining the streets, scenting the air,” I’m so there for all of his descriptions. And the book is often a blend of the personal and the historical, which is a thing I enjoy in general, and that I think Macfarlane does really well. So for example in a chapter about the chalk formations of southeast England he talks about Neolithic times, and how “dense forest” would have meant “the chalk ridges would have offered the obvious routes of travel,” and how that means that “over time, along their crests, the first real footpaths emerged,” and he also talks about his experience of that same landscape now—light, flowers, lichen, skylarks, deer.

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