When I was sixteen or seventeen I spent a couple of warm summer days in the company of two friends following an old trail passing through my childhood’s forests and hills. The path we walked is said to be part of an old peregrine way to Nidaros, which was the Viking name for Trondheim in Norway. Nidaros cathedral was one of the first seats of Christianity when that religion was spread through the north by homecoming Viking kings, and as such it became an important destination for pilgrims during the middle ages.
Ours was not a religious hike, only a curious walk, and of course we did not continue all the way to Trondheim, not even to the Norwegian border. We were satisfied with fifty or sixty kilometers over two days, stopping for a swim in some of the sun-bright lakes and dark forest ponds we passed. We spent the night in a field under the open sky. It was August if I remember correctly; the last weekend of our summer holidays; the last weekend before we were heading back to high school. Yes, it was August, and the Nordic night once more dark enough for stars and moon to shine on us as we slept.
This memory is only one of several good ones from my late teenage years, but one that Robert MacFarlane‘s ‘The old Ways – A Journey on Foot’ brought back in force. Almost nostalgia.
But let me point out straight away, that MacFarlane doesn’t write nostalgia. Instead he writes about the history and nature of pathways in England, Scotland, and aborad. The book is about the old ways that still trace the land, lost from public memory. But it is also about what may be called the negatives, or inverse of those roads: ways existing mostly in memory and legend, already erased by nature. By waves or wind. The Old Ways is a travel diary, a history, a gallery of interesting characters, a book about the poetry of the countryside, and the poet Edward Thomas.
It is about the pleasure of walking, and about how as our human feet paves a path through land and time, these too makes imprints upon us.
It is an excellent book. A slow meditative read, written in a beautiful language, with some words set as gems in the text. I had a very hard time putting down, and enjoyed it very much.