Jonathan & Denise >
Much as we want to spend time outdoors – much as we need to spend time outdoors (not least there’s the ‘old’ compost heap to barrow out to the productive plots), this weekend is 100% wind and rain, with both soil and sky 100% saturated. We’re making the most of it, and concentrating our efforts indoors.
Well, okay, ‘efforts’ might be too strong a word. Yes, we’ve spent a bit of time in the office catching up on admin’ work, and there’s been a fair bit of knitting and spinning done too. But we’ve rather enjoyed not needing an excuse to make ourselves comfortable in the sitting room, with the wood-burning stove lit, and be ‘armchair walkers’ for the weekend.
I have two books to help find the way. The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn – is a personal account of the South West Coast Path, struggling with both the physical challenge and the aftermath of personal tragedies. Between Denise and me, over forty years or so, we’ve completed quite a number of National Trails , and I’ve also walked even further along routes of my own devising, so I’ve read quite a number of books of this kind. This book, though, must be one of the very best I’ve read. Here’s the blurb :
With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset via Devon and Cornwall.
Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.
The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.
The second is a series of detailed map-based guide books, which we bought nearly twenty years ago to walk this long-distance National Trail in sections, but life changed direction and we never walked any of it. (Come to think of it, we moved to here in Uist!). So, at least now I’m getting more from those books than just regrets!
Next up will be the book that D has just finished – see below.
I’m glad J is enjoying The Salt Path : I certainly did very much enjoy it – it was also deeply thought-provoking. There are elements in our circumstances (not least age) and experience that enable us to strongly empathise with the author.
The book I’ve just finished reading is One Woman Walks Wales, by Ursula Martin.
Like The Salt Path, this is a personal account of a long-distance walk, and likewise a walk prompted in part by a serious health condition – in this case ovarian cancer. And the similarities don’t end there : the author is a woman (obviously!), and Wales is her home country. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Although Ursula Martin usually walked alone, she increasingly attracted companion-walkers and practical assistance, or in other ways. This support came from the many people, friends and strangers, following her progress around Wales, wishing her well and wanting to support the charities she was raising money for.
It’s conventional these days to talk knowingly of the importance of jeopardy to story-telling, but apart from the author’s medical condition, the book falls well short of the desolation, desperation and despair of The Salt Path, and as a consequence fails to inspire the same level of hope and joy.
One Woman Walks Wales, by Ursula Martin, has about 400 pages (compared to about 275 for The Salt Path) for a total of 3700 miles around through and across Wales, so each page on average covers more than 90 miles of walking, which means that, after deducting a third to half the content for the medical narrative, the charity connection, and logistics, there is only half a page for each 90 miles, and therefore room only for highlights of the journey.
This is a pity, because – as J and I learned from our own experience, the longer one is walking, the more one learns to truly see and appreciate the subtle beauty and wonder of the ‘ordinary’ countryside which makes up 99% of a walk like this. So the very thing about this extraordinary journey which could make this a seminal book about the Welsh countryside, is lost almost entirely. In truth, this is less about a long walking journey with cancer and charity work as a sub-plot, as a journey towards healing, with the landscape and landmarks of Wales as an inspiring background.
If you look closely at the image of the book cover, you’ll see the yellow lines that indicate the routes the author followed. Some of them she walked twice or more! I can’t begin to imagine the changes we would have to make to our lives to enable us to undertake something as awe-inspiring as that. But the walking itself ? Now that I can imagine – certainly from the comfort of my armchair!
If I seem rather critical of this book, that’s a shame, because I am certainly in awe of the what the author achieved, both on foot and otherwise. Ursula Martin is a remarkable woman, and has achieved a remarkable feat ; but the book doesn’t really do justice either to the journey, which is what I bought the book for.
Next book for me ? The Yorkshire Shepherdess, by Amanda Owen. This is the first in a series, which I find I’m reading after the others : Reading them in reverse order, I find the beginnings of her story are more meaningful. I didn’t intend to read them in this order, it’s just an quirk of circumstance!