Pathlands by Peter Owen Jones
|Pathlands by Peter Owen Jones|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A gentle and reflective meander through the byeways of Britain from Cornwall to the Scottish Borders|
|Buy? YES||Borrow? YES|
|Pages: 288||Date: April 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
I have lots of walking books. All of them have been bought with a half-baked intention of actually doing the walks described within them… which of course, I've only partially succeeded in. I do have some books which I have fully ticked-off, but most of them, especially most of the later ones have (at best) been inspiration enough to get the boots on, but rarely more than once or twice. So many unfinished plans.
This has always been a source of low-level stress, the self-imposed pressure that I really should be out there 'completing'.
Not any more, because I have now found a kindred spirit. I have now found the kind of walking book that I would want to write. It's written to be read, not to be taken out into the field. Although I'm sure that author (tv presenter and Anglican clergyman) Peter Owen Jones would be more than delighted if you did take it out and sat in a field to delight in his words with the scent of new mown hay, or fresh turned earth for company.
Pathlands is a collection of 21 walks over the course of a year: tranquil walks among the villages of Britain as the subtitle says. For each walk, we get Jones' description of it, how it was for him on that particular day, the sights and sounds and smells, the people he meets and doesn't meet, the churches he finds (mostly locked), the birdsong and its absence, the reflections and memories all of this provokes.
This is supplemented by a line-drawn map, and walk directions.
These last are what I normally buy a walk book for… the instructions and the guide. It's the feeble, tell me where to go approach to walking. OK, it's also the safe and sensible approach.
But we cannot be safe and sensible all the time… and mostly I'm not. When I calculate walking time - which if like me you rely on public transport, you have to do - then I always allow for the WAGL factor. Wallying About and Getting Lost. One of the reasons my walk guides are rarely completed is my tendency to set out on a route and then, not get lost exactly, but be somewhere else. Routes get confused, rewritten on the day. 'Back-tracking' is something of a last resort in our family, if we're off-piste we replan from where we are, rather than trying to get back to where we went wrong.
One of the joys of Pathlands then is finding someone else who walks exactly the same way. He has a map, he has a plan. The one is needed all the more as the other drifts away from reality. Paths marked on maps aren't always visible on the ground. Paths on the ground aren't always mapped. Jones' response to this is to take a best-guess approach and strike out in roughly the right direction. He'll ask passers-by, he'll study the map – but he'll also climb fences, stumble through ditches and (one feels, quite often) just hope for the best.
It all works out in the end.
The other deep abiding pleasure for me in reading the book, is that it isn't all about the walk. It's about the memories evoked by it. He'll wander back to a teenage party, or travels abroad. He laments his schoolboy fascination for killing butterflies or shooting things. As he tells the tales he'd probably share with you if you were walking with him, you slowly gain a sense of how he has grown into his love of wild places over time. His connection with the planet is a very spiritual one and – for a clergyman – he seems to have a true sense of man's place on the planet. And it's not to rule over it. His sorrow at our losing touch with nature is palpable.
Yet his beautiful expression rarely over-romanticises and is often jolted by to reality with gentle humour Brokering peace terms with a goose is always more pleasurable than dealing with a dog in the same mood. Geese don't have teeth. From her experience many years ago on Jersey, my Mam would have disagreed. Walking generating his memories penetrating mine.
He has a lovely turn of phrase even when talking of the simplest things. He tells of an old plough rotting in the corner of a field it might have been the end of the day, or it started to rain heavily, or maybe it has sheared a bolt and the farmer thought 'I'll just leave it there overnight' and something cropped up the next day which became a week which became a year which became a quarter of a century, and there it remains, like a name in an old address book.
I share his fondness for the odd things one finds on a walk. Ornaments out of place. Birds and animals that watch you and make up their own minds. It's the kind of book that I irritate people with when I'm reading, because I immediately want to share a piece of beautiful description, or a philosophical reflection that speaks to me. I'll just leave you with two that fall easily back to mind and then let you discover the rest of this gem for yourself.
Woods have traditionally been cast as the keepers of our shadows or as places of sanctuary from the despots of the cleared land.
the natural world is not subject to clocks, to minutes, to weeks. The sparrows are not counting their kings; nor does the mountain measure its standing in metres. The yew is more surely an emblem of patience than of time.
I'm unlikely to walk any of these paths, but I'll walk others and I'll remember his approach when I do. I'll take the time to look and listen and touch and smell… but also the time to think, to capture the pictures of what is and allow memory and reflection to become part of the point of putting one foot in front of the other.
Anyone who enjoys this will also be taken with While Wandering - A Walking Companion by Duncan Minshull.
You can read more book reviews or buy Pathlands by Peter Owen Jones at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Pathlands by Peter Owen Jones at Amazon.com.
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