A Walk on the Wild Side
A Walk on the Wild Side
July 29, 2014 8:47 PM Subscribe
Will Self and Robert Macfarlane Walk Wild Britain
We met on the sea wall beneath the lowering weirdness of Bawdsey Manor and bonded over the bizarre extent of its rock garden: how had it come to be there? Xenoliths – Robert said – that was the technical term for rocks brought from another place. He was indeed handsome, fit and disarmingly charming; and as we loped on along the shingle crunching and chatting it became abundantly clear that our problem that day was not going to be an awkward silence. There are two main types of walk so far as I’m concerned – and I expect Robert would agree: the determining factor is not a walk’s length, whether up hill or down dale, if it is sleeting or shining, but only accompanied/unaccompanied.
Will and I are both walkers. We leg it. In fact, we long-leg it (I’m 6’ 2” and Will is taller still). We walk a lot, we walk to talk, we walk to write and we walk for thought, but we walk very differently. We were both brought up in walking families. Will made epic traverses of Dartmoor with his father. I spent my childhood holidays in the wilder parts of Britain, stomping up mountains, learning how to navigate by map and compass, how to scramble, how to eat Mr Kipling’s Cherry Bakewells in a freezing gale at 3,000ft.Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways chronicles, among other things, the ancient tracks and walkways, those dark moments on the heath, his inspirations Edward Thomas and John Muir, the footsteps of Laurie Lee, the pilgrimage or sacred act, the most dangerous path in Britain, the Cairngorns, and has 'made him an unlikely star,' as he travels The World Beneath Our Feet
What started for both of us as frogmarches or forced pastimes became, later, not just a pleasure but a necessity. A need to walk: a longing for lactic, for the burning leg. Walking as a way of making sense of the landscape, and of ourselves.
Macfarlane is a writer-naturalist whose reputation rests on a remarkable ability to conjure nature in full quintaphonic sensual detail, with a beguiling pulse of the spiritual (or perhaps animist) that places him firmly in the Romantic line. If Keats were alive today, he would be lamenting the loss of nightingales, and it is clear where Macfarlane’s sympathies lie. But he also has something writers are thought to lack: physical endurance and courage, inherited from his diplomat grandfather, Edward Peck, who “covered vast distances . . . his six-foot wooden skis taking him to summits in the Himalayas, the Alps, up Kilimanjaro and Kinabulu”. The grandson, while not speaking twelve languages, is equally hearty. He scales peaks, hikes in dangerous places, camps out in polar weather, dives into freezing waters. One of the sixteen “journeys on foot” recorded in The Old Ways takes him out on the Broomway, a faint causeway curving out over the silt of the Essex coast, a precarious path which the tide can swallow in minutes. Despite all the warnings about finishing in quicksand or in the sea, he and his friend set out in a white mist with only a brief demur: “We walked on . . .”.Macfarlane also writes about the woods and wild places, peregrine falcons, and heading underground
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