Nine Books for Walking.

Nine Books for Walking

Any travel book which spells adventure, any book on walking, has proved its value when we experience the urge to act upon it, to put the book aside, to go outdoors and start walking with or without a destination. I have selected nine books on walking from my bookshelves at home.

We might walk to:

  • get some fresh air
  • experience the outdoors
  • travel from A to B.
  • slowly walk up and down to meditate,
  • to reflect on an issue.
  • go for a hike, short or long,
  • participate in a demonstration to make a political statement
  • go on pilgrimage
  • go on an expedition
  • to experience nature, the Earth and the universe.

 Here are my nine favourite books on walking.

In Alphabetical order:

  1. A Philosophy of Walking

Frederic Gros

First Published 2009

Frederic Gros relates the freedom and lightness of being in the act of walking, of the hike, the pilgrimage on foot. Recalling his own experiences with eloquent  beauty, he emphasises the capacity of walking to evoke a natural sense of freedom, the letting go of memory and to feel the unconstrained movement of life. Gros, a professor of philosophy in Paris, France, clearly loves walking. He loves the composure and clarity that emerges through the ongoing step by step activity.  He loves the way that walking shrugs off working and domestic life, discards a variety of roles and the daily routines. Walking gives the opportunity to experience an intimacy with the nature and an intimacy with oneself. The philosopher then turns his attention to reflecting on the experiences of Western philosopher and writers who shared the same passion for walking and full exposure to the nature. Such people as Nietzsche, Kerouac, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau and Kant. He devotes 12 pages to Gandhi as mystic and politician. As one reviewer commented: “Walking quietens the troubled soul.”

2. A Time of Gifts

Patrick Leigh Fermor

British lovers of travel books regard Patrick Leigh Fermor as the doyen of travel writers of the 20th century, Written with a vivid magnificence, A Time of Gifts probably ranks as unexcelled in contemporary travel literature in the English language. Leigh Fermor describes his walk from Holland to Constantinople, via Nazi Germany, in 1934. He was 18 years old at the time. Some 40 years later, he re-read his diary and along with his remarkable memory for detail wrote A Time for Gifts. It is his exquisite attention to the nature, the architecture, art and people that make his writing so spell-bending. He applies images, metaphors and precious prose to communicate the vibrancy of European life in a period of dramatic and dangerous changes. Readers learn about intricate communications and cultural nuances of daily life while political policies get fashioned that will change the lives of millions in the most dramatic of ways. There is a common agreement that lovers of travel literature regard A Time of Gifts as the supreme gift of such forms of literature. One finds oneself returning to read sections of the book for the lyrical beauty of the writing, as much as for the time that Leigh Fermor writes about.

3. On the Road Again.

On the Travellers Trail to India

Simon Dring

First Published 1995

At the age of 16, Simon Dring left Britain telling his parent he was crossing the English Channel to work in French vineyards. He didn’t return home but kept on travelling for four years including travels in India. Dring had been expelled from his boarding school in Norfolk for swimming at night in a local river. That was in 1962. In 1994, Dring, a television journalist, followed much the same route to India, along with a BBC camera crew. They journeyed through continental Europe, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan and into India. The book contains numerous pictures of the modern and ancient world of these remarkable countries and their immense heritage. The Western invasion of numerous Muslim countries, especially since 9/11, has raised to the ground monuments, market towns and many areas of cities with their bazaars, mosques and bustling activity. The invasions, civil wars and regional wars have destroyed a beautiful region of the world. Travellers, hitchhikers and cyclists, who have made the overland journey to India, can read this book. look at the photos but may well experience a degree of sadness at the wilful destruction of the grandeur of much of the Arab culture.

4. Palestinian Walks

Raja Shehadeh

First Published 2007

Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Literature in 2008, Palestinian Walks reflects on the poignant beauty of Palestinian countryside, the senselessness of the Israel army’s destruction of the villages and the long history of the Palestinian people. Raja Shehadeh writes a sensitive book without promoting a polemic against the occupation. The absence of a diatribe against Israel gives the book a depth of quiet authority. A human right lawyer, he examines the failures of Palestinian leadership and the blindness of the Israel government’s policy. Employing subtle language and precise prose, he describes in detail the expanse of the sun drench Palestinian land while including references to the harm of the occupation and the impact of the settlements on Palestinian life. He writes as a calm observer of Palestine along with personal reflections on the country’s history and various incidents that give shape to the society, the culture and the land. Readers can feel his doubts about the future for Palestine. Lovers of the Palestinian people refuse to let the doubts get in the way of action. When the day of liberation comes for Palestine, hikers and pilgrims worldwide by the hundreds should come to take long walks in Palestine and enjoy Islamic hospitality.

5. Songlines

Bruce Chatwin

First Published 1987.

We follow the long treks of Bruce Chatwin (1940 – 1989), a handsome, and adventurous Englishman, a master of prose, who walked along the invisible ancient pathways of the Aborigines in Australia. The Aborigines sang songs of the ancestors as they walked.  Like pilgrims worldwide, the Aborigines travelled the land of Dreamtime and sang to celebrate the wonder of the Earth and the vast universe, day and night. It takes a skill to write about a culture, recognise its deep connections with the environment without romanticisng people, past or present,  to overlook the problematic features of any society. Chatwin meets with some remarkable and eccentric residents living in the Outback. He addresses some of the deeper issues around the restlessness that makes us travel, the relationship of thought and imagination to reality and the significance of mythology amidst immediacy of nature. He reminds us that life constitutes a journey with barely any roadsides, except for those with eyes to see. It is one of the best loved travel books. Songlines would surely get a place in any list of favourite travel books. In a magnificent exposition, he conveys the majestic expanse of the raw Australian outback and the way the environment shapes lives. The author reminds that we, as humans, have a very long nomadic history. There is wondrous way that the Aboriginal people make connections with each other through long distances, via the songlines.

6. The Art of Pilgrimage

Phil Cousineau

First Published 1998

American author, Phile Cousineau offers readers a spiritual guide to the art of walking; he wants readers to sense the sacred amidst the walk. He points out the deep significance of walking. The walk then become something more than an enjoyable or challenging journey or simple a striding to the next destination. Beautifully produced with numerous illustrations, Cousineau sees walking as a precious fact but also as a metaphor. Every day we continue our journey through life with the opportunity for the journey to reveal inspiring revelation and limitless numbers of treasures of experience. He has sought out countless descriptions of the walks of poets, artists, writers and sages who refer to their wandering. One author referred to the outdoor life as ‘the strange light of adventure.’ The meditative movement of walking provides the access to the sense of the spiritual in walking. Sages and writers wrote down their reflections, impressions and realisations as they walked to give inspiration and birth to more generations of walkers. In the East, people of faith advocate the walking pilgrimage (known as Yatra). Buddhist and Hindus, monks, nuns and laypeople, engage in Yatras, individually and collectively, sometimes stretching for hundreds of kilometres.

7. To a Mountain in Tibet

Colin Thubron

First Published 2012

Often regarded as the leading light of contemporary British travel writers, Colin Thubron joins the throngs of Buddhist-Hindu pilgrims making the arduous walk to Mount Kailash, the most sacred of all mountains for countess millions of these two major world religions. Alongside the pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, where Buddha realised enlightenment, Buddhists regard the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash as one of the greatest of all pilgrimages. Thubron’s journey takes him through remote villages, high passes and visits to ancient Buddhist monasteries. He made his secular pilgrimage after the death of his mother. In the opening chapter, he wrote: “I need to leave a sign of their passage…You cannot walk out of your grief…. or bring anybody back. So you choose somewhere meaningful on the earth’s surface, as if planning a secular pilgrimage…In the end you come to rest at a mountain that is sacred to others.” Thubron brings a spiritual significance to his journey examining with an eloquent tenderness the character of the terrain, the pilgrims and himself.

8 Travels with Herodotus

Ryszard Kapuscinski

First Published 2004

Poland’s journalist of the century in 1999 and receiver of various international awards, Richard Kapunscinski (1932-2007) wrote about his travels in India, China and Africa during the 1950s. A young journalist, he received as a parting gift from his editor in Poland a copy of Herodotus’s Histories. Herodotus, a 5th century BC historian, had travelled to around Mediterranean countries and as far India. His travels inspired Kapinscinski to read about the experience of Herodotus some 2500 years previous.  He makes regular reference to the writings of Herodotus and the variety of views of the Greek historian. Both writers display a curiosity about people and places they visit – about the Gods, the wars, the battles, people in power and the cruelty. The Polish journalist wrote: “India was my first encounter with otherness, the discovery of a new world. . A culture would not reveal its mysteries to me at a mere wave of the hand: one has to prepare oneself thoroughly and at length for such an encounter.” He reminds us that to “understand a culture, we must first get to know it.”  The journalist offers countless insights into cultures, their past and their present. He conveys journalism of the highest order

9.Wanderlust. A History of Walking

Rebecca Solnit

First Published 2001

Rebecca Solnit, who lives in San Francisco, weaves together the long history of walking, the motivations that influence the walking, the act of walking and the imagery and perceptions that spring from the pure simplicity of taking one conscious step by step after another. She writes of the significance of walking in ancient Greece and the nomads, ramblers, poets, philosophers and revolutionaries, who employed walking to free up their insights and state their convictions.  She appreciates the willingness of people to get out their homes, to hike or make a long trek in barren locations. Wanderlust reminds us of the relationship of the walker (the mind, the imagination and perceptions) with the act of walking and the immediate environment. Varying climates make an impact on the walker but devoted walkers refuse to be deterred by weather conditions. The lover of the outdoors and remote localities, alone or with others, belongs firmly to the challenge. We, the living generation of walkers, follow in the footsteps of countess previous generations who loved the sky above and earth below. Wanderlust shares the reports of our predecessors.

To readers

We have our 16th annual Dharma Yatra in southern France for 10 days in late July, 2016. We have places for 150 adults and children. The Dharma Yatra is a walking pilgrimage (Yatra) alongside teachings and practices (Dharma). Please note the numbers fill rapidly in April. Spaces for youngsters under the age of 16 years have become full.

Put your shoes/walking boots on now or at the earliest opportunity. Don’t delay.

May all beings enjoy the power of walking

May all beings experience intimacy with nature

May all beings know love and liberation

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