The Old Ways

By Robert Macfarlane,

Book cover of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Book description

The acclaimed author of The Wild Places and Underland examines the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move

Chosen by Slate as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years

In this exquisitely written book, which folds together natural history, cartography,…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked The Old Ways as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This book charts a series of journeys along ancient tracks, holloways, and drove-roads. I found it a hugely immersive, surprisingly exhilarating read – I loved how Macfarlane brought a very detailed, lucid, and embodied mode of narration to travels that were often unexpected and strange.

As he walks, we hear stories of ghosts, pilgrims, songs, and their singers – it’s a book about people as much as places, and as I read, I gained a powerful sense of how, as humans, we’re shaped, made, and remade, by the landscapes we move through.

From Helen's list on reconnecting with nature.

I envy Macfarlane for his talent, his deep knowledge, the cultural wealth he brings to his books, and above all…the many mountains he climbed and the wonderful travels he has made.

Our time on this planet is limited. There is no way we could visit even half the places we dream about. Reading about them is some consolation.

Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways encompasses everything I want in a book: incidents that propel the mind forward like footsteps, thoughts that arrive with the inevitability of falling leaves, sentences that stop your eyes with their beauty, impelling you to pause a moment and sound the words aloud. 

The Old Ways is an intimate and soulful book about journeys along many paths.

It is a glorious songline to the ancient network of tracks that lace across the land, mainly in the British Isles, from trails across the bogs of Dartmoor, to the tidal path of the ‘Broomway’ in Essex, to the routes around the herders’ huts on the Isle of Lewis. Paths that were walked into existence by generations of people and animals.

Macfarlane delights in the language of movement and the sensory nature of it, as well as in the landscapes themselves, so that the sum of…

From Jim's list on walking and the magic of paths.

The only non-fiction book on my list, Macfarlane’s series of essays on the ancient and sometimes hidden roads and tracks of Britain gives us glimpses into a past world, but also places landscape, and travel (both physical and psychological) through that landscape as the focus of the book. I chose this book as my fifth title because landscape, and my characters’ relationships with place, is an integral part of my books, and Macfarlane’s insights helped me further understand and express that.

This was the first piece of British nature writing I ever read, and it inspired me to get up out of my armchair and go for an adventure on the Ridgeway. The adventure ended in some of the worst blisters I have ever seen, but the experience stayed with me and rekindled a love for the British landscape. I find it a magical idea that our land is crisscrossed by a network of ancient pathways, and that we are walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. 

From Edward's list on to rewild the mind.

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