Evening Book Group

This group is meeting regularly on zoom until further notice (we usually meet on the 1st Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm till 9:00pm in the library).

There is a small charge per meeting.

Book Review

The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane

Robert MacFarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’ is the final book in a loose trilogy exploring the connection of the individual with the landscapes we inhabit and roam through. In this book the author walks varying landscapes around England, Scotland, Spain, Palestine and Tibet with each chapter heading the title of a type a rock or substance that dominates that particular region. This was the first time I had read anything by Robert MacFarlane and I was enraptured with the tenderness and thoughtfulness to his prose which sets out to explore the “ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes.”

MacFarlane sets out with this central premise and considers the past associations with paths as though the very act of walking itself is “a kind of reading.” However there is also a recognition of walking in all of its modes and not just in a way that is meant to be therapeutic or romanticised. He follows in the footpaths of poet and writer Edward Thomas who himself often walked to enable himself to combat his dark moods or finding landscapes offering “compensations for his own lacks.” The penultimate chapter which is a fictionalised retelling of the final month of Thomas’ life were particularly emotional. The path here is a metaphorical representation of the decisions and choices that we make in life without knowing truly where they will lead. MacFarlane also considers Laurie Lee’s 1969 text As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning which looks at life in post war Britain where men had to walk out of necessity to find work, “brigades of broken men who walked the land but often fell out of the headier accounts of life on the path.” A stark reminder of how the necessity of these paths were a life line across our landscape.

These walkers still continue to haunt these paths and indeed this is a book which is full of ghosts: a seemingly odd juxtaposition in a text that is full of scientific terminology and identification. The tale of MacFarlane’s night on Chanctonbury Ring was particularly heart-stopping along with the mysterious human footprints in the snow that seemed to lead to nowhere. Finally, a glimpse of a large black cat prowling a snow ridden landscape all defying rationality and identification. Whatever the explanation it is certain that our walkways and paths are very much part of our identity and cultural history. They inform us about the past and also about ourselves.  Katie

This book was much loved by the book group. Most members found it a hard read to finish in a month as it is packed full of information, and many plan to revisit it so that they can enjoy it at a more leisurely pace. The book contains a glossary of terms, which can be supplemented by searching online for photos and videos and the websites of some the interesting people Robert Macfarlane meets along the way.

Review by Bridget Arregger