Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Living life barefoot, on an island that has no cars, where I’ve all but forgotten the smell of petrol, has got me thinking a lot about walking. I spend most of my days on foot, travelling happily between island locations. But I also love to hike, and it’s perhaps one of the things I miss most about home and the hilly landscape of the Cotswolds where I come from. Here, connected as I am to the beauty of my natural surroundings, the size of the island and its flat landscape means it is hardly one of the world’s top hiking destinations. So, I’ve been reading books about walking – stories of walks and walkers, meditations on the art of hiking, and practical books about navigation. Regardless of the content there is something all books about walking share: a sense of adventure, a fervour for the natural world, and a distinctly human desire to reconnect the foot with worldly soil. These are some of my favourite books all about walking, that I hope will encourage you to put your best foot forward – as they have me.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
A remarkable memoir about hope in the direst of situations, which turns a tragedy into an adventure. The Salt Path affected me profoundly when I read it and has remained in my consciousness ever since. After losing their home and livelihood, Moth and Raynor discover that Moth is terminally ill. Bankrupt, homeless and in physical and emotional agony, the couple decide to walk England’s 630 mile south-west coastal footpath from Somerset to Dorset via Devon and Cornwall. The journey definitely isn’t an easy one, but what comes with it is cathartic and regenerative. Incredibly brave, moving and full of love, resilience, and joy, this memoir will inspire you to slide on your walking boots in search of adventure - and also hope.
The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs by Tristan Gooley
Navigating the landscape is a crucial part of walking. But what if we could steer our course without maps, compasses and GPS? Tristan Gooley’s book teaches us all we need to know to do just that. By reading the world around us, we can determine where we want to go, and even information about places hundreds of miles away. Animal tracks and certain plants can be an indicator of water, puddles can tell us the direction of the nearest town, the shape of a tree can tell you where North is. Putting Tristan’s advice into practice, I discovered that navigating using nature made me have a greater sense of the numinous, and a more harmonious relationship with the natural world around me.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
Being a Gloucestershire girl, I grew up with Laurie Lee’s writing in my cultural mythology and the Cotswold landscapes that he writes about in his memoir Cider With Rosie are familiar and nostalgic to me. I have retraced Laurie’s steps with my dogs, finishing with a refreshing pint of cider in his local pub in Slad countless times, so perhaps his writing holds particular significance to me. That said, very few writers are as able to catch the spirit of nature writing, or of the breathless joy of being outdoors as Laurie Lee. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning takes him out of the Cotswolds as he first walks towards London, and then through Spain, recounting the exhilarating highs and lows of trailing through nature whatever the setting.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
There are few more daring things you can do than hike more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Coast Trail, battling through every sort of terrain, from blazing desert to snow-logged mountains. And to do it alone, as Cheryl Strayed did, would seem more stupid than courageous. However, provoked by grief following the death of her mother, we learn that Cheryl’s adventure means far more than braving the elements and putting herself in peril. Instead, walking proves to be a physical and emotional journey in which she explores her greatest fears in this bold, autobiographical journey.
To The River by Olivia Laing
‘Unlike a lake or sea,’ Olivia Laing writes in To The River, ‘a river has a destination, and there is something about the way it travels that makes it very soothing.’ As we follow Laing’s journey along the river Ouse, the water in which Virginia Woolf decided to take her own life in 1941, we explore what rivers mean to humanity, both socially and spiritually, and the literature and lore that surrounds their meandering lengths. In this stunning story, Laing’s writing is at once poetic and interrogative, personal and universal, and the book is a thoughtful examination of the significance of journeys with inevitable yet winding outcomes.