The Green Road into the Trees: An Exploration of England, By Hugh Thomson
Cross-country adventures of the wanderer and the escapee
Saturday 30 June 2012
One of the most challenging aspects of any author's life is the way in which ideas can circulate in the ether to emerge from different pens at the same moment. It is impossible to pick up Hugh Thomson's book, tracing the prehistoric Icknield Way that bisects England at a diagonal from Norfolk to Dorset, without being aware of Robert Macfarlane's recently published The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, which includes the path in its itinerary.
This route passes close to both writers' homes, Thomson's in the Thames Valley and Macfarlane's in Cambridge. Both are at least partly inspired to follow it by Edward Thomas's account of walking the Way, published in 1913; both were friends of the late nature writer Roger Deakin. There is even a moment when they both spend a night in the hills near Luton, Macfarlane sleeping in the "Neolithic dormitory" of a hill-fort, Thomson trespassing to Ravensburgh Castle. Perhaps they stumbled past each other in the dusk?
However, differences are immediately apparent in what propels these two protagonists. While Macfarlane is escaping the rigours of the Cambridge academic life, travel writer and film-maker Thomson is an inveterate wanderer, recently returned from Peru. It is the powerful strangeness of a jamboree in his local town, where a brass band is playing Abba's "Dancing Queen" to tattooed farmers' wives, that persuades him to set about exploring his own "complicated and intriguing" country.
His decision to walk is pragmatic: he has recently lost his driving licence, comforting himself with the idea that there is "nothing like being on foot to get the taste of a journey". To add to his kitbag of troubles, he is shortly to be evicted from the barn he lives in near the banks of the Thames, in a village where he grew up river swimming and messing around in boats.
Peripatetic or not, he doesn't hang about. "The cure for a hangover," he explains, "was to keep drinking. The cure for jet lag was to keep travelling. I was on the train to Dorset the next morning". He is an illuminating companion, his wide experience of the Inca heartlands a lens through which he deciphers Bronze Age Britain. Pausing only for coruscating condemnation of Prince Charles's architectural folly at Poundbury, he strikes out from the coast for Wiltshire. Here he is at his best, explaining why Stonehenge should not be seen as an isolated site but instead as part of a wider "ritual landscape", akin to that of the Inca in Peru.
Refreshing himself with Peruvian coca tea in order to let off Orwellian broadsides against aristocrats, bureaucrats, politicians and prelates, he is pulled towards a prehistoric epiphany at the site of "Seahenge" on the Norfolk coast. Frequently comic, his voice is original and engaging; proof that it is the walker, not the path, that counts.
James Attlee's 'Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight' is published by Penguin
interviewHer estate has become the nation's glossiest food empire
theatreTheatre's hitmaker Daniel Evans on 'Oliver' and bringing 'The Full Monty' to the stage
interviewThe producer and activist, Trudie Styler, whose film 'Filth' is up for five film awards, is tapping into the industry's neglected female talent
food + drinkMichelin-starred Tom Sellers on being this year's hottest property
tvParents (and kids) rejoice! A new wave of fantastic family entertainment is here
booksGeese, gorillas, grandads... and growing up
food + drinkHow one grocery e-tailer is gearing up for the Yuletide rush
food + drink
travelFor broadcaster Mishal Husain, a long-haul Club Med holiday was a chance for her family to explore its sense of 'zen' and 'animation'
Arts & Ents blogs
The 50 Best Christmas songs: Bells continue to ring for the Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York'
Sherlock series 3: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman provide teasers for the biggest comeback in British television
Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke and Lady Gaga attacked by Noel Gallagher in 2013 music rant
Back in Black (Sabbath): On the comeback trail with Ozzy Osbourne and crew
Back from the dead? Family Guy's Brian Griffin 'to make a comeback' after fan petition
- 1 Hundreds arrested as Canadian police smash worldwide paedophile ring
- 2 Sherlock series 3: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman provide teasers for the biggest comeback in British television
- 3 Why Barcelona chose Everton to educate their latest prodigy
- 4 Mass murder in the Middle East is funded by our friends the Saudis
- 5 Japan cracks down on leaks after scandal of Fukushima nuclear power plant
- < Previous
- Next >