4 stars. Hike Smart: Tips and Tactics for Improving Your Treks by Ann Marie Brown and Terra Breeden draws from the authors’ extensive backpacking experience to present a readable, instructive guide that benefits novices and experienced hikers alike. Topics range from safety to comfort to gear selection to navigational skills.
What I appreciated most about this guide is its conversational tone. Most hiking guides read like a textbook, alternating checklists with dry instructional material. The authors here do an excellent job relating information on a personal level, as if they are discussing what works for them, and most importantly why it works for them. In addition to their own experiences, they relate many anecdotes from other hikers. These anecdotes blend well with the text, either illustrating the rationale of the authors or providing an experience that they analyze and use to teach.
I also am a fan of the authors’ middle ground stance on ultralight gear. Many ultralight advocates are far more willing than I to trade ounces on their backs for substantial reductions in comfort and safety and/or more investment of time in camp and on the trail (and, to their credit, they have mastered the skills and attitude necessary for that). Brown and Breeden favor an approach of understanding and evaluating the trade-offs presented by ultralight gear–shedding weight where it makes sense, yet not being shy to pack something heavier that elevates one’s hiking experience.
Brown and Breeden’s self-deprecating wit adds to the warmth of Hike Smart. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and little asides like “If you’re a worry-wort like Terra, carry both” are a refreshing break from the “ZOMG You’re Doing It WRONG!!!” attitude that’s unfortunately found in many online hiker communities.
The only real shortcoming of this book is that some topics seem biased towards the experience of backpacking either solo or duo. For example, the section on stoves can be summarized with “use a Jetboil/MSR Reactor integrated canister stove.” While that is a good solution for the solo hiker, it’s not nearly as good when cooking for 4 or more.
I’d also say that this book is very western US-centric. This would be a complaint if the gorgeous pictures of all their Sierra Nevada hikes hadn’t managed to take all my breath away! But I did notice that while topics such as how to secure a tent when tent stakes cannot be driven are covered, whereas there is no real discussion of the use of a hammock as bed and shelter, as is popular in eastern US backpacking.
Rather than the traditional hiking guide which focuses on instruction in a particular method, Hike Smart relies on teaching sound decision-making skills for hikers. I found myself agreeing with a great deal of this book. In many cases, the authors have put into words what I have discovered through experience or by accident. I checked this out from the library expecting to skim it, and found myself reading, enjoying, and learning from it.
Middle Tennessee is a lush, rolling landscape of hills, farmland, woods, and rivers. Bordered by the Tennessee River to the west, the ground rises through the karst topography of the Nashville Basin and the bluffs of the Highland Rim to the breathtaking Cumberland Plateau gorges and gulfs that form the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The limestone bedrock creates a fascinating combination of caves and prairie-like cedar glades that are home to several unique species of plants.
The human history of Middle Tennessee is as rich as its fertile soil. Several Native American tribes lived, hunted, and roamed the area, primarily the Cherokee and Chickasaws. Early European visitors found the land wild and daunting. Legendary frontiersmen such as David Crockett and Daniel Boone cemented their place in American history with their roles in settling the state. The Civil War turned much of the state into a pivotal battlefield as the territory changed hands repeatedly.
Tennesseans value our outdoor resources highly, with a huge number of parks, trails, and greenways available throughout the state. We’re fortunate to have the fantastic Tennessee State Parks to preserve our lovely landscape and cultural heritage. The 56 parks in the system all offer hiking, as well as many other activities such as fishing, boating, and camping. The park staff and volunteers universally embody another bountiful Tennessee resource–Southern hospitality and friendliness. And one more wonderful thing about our state parks… admission is FREE for all!
With so much to offer, it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to Tennessee trails. I’ve been hiking in Tennessee all my life, and I still have a long list of trails I haven’t done! Over the next several articles, I’m presenting my favorites within an easy day trip distance of Nashville that showcase the beauty and history of our state. Happy hiking, and hope to see you on the trail soon!
Dunbar Cave State Park (website), Clarksville, Tennessee 1.9 mile loop via Recovery Trail and Lake Trail with shorter option available Difficulty: Easy Trailhead:N36.55095°, W87.30621° Highlights: Striking cave entrance, lake shore, historical interest
Dunbar Cave has a rich history, most notably as a venue owned by Roy Acuff for live music, dancing, and radio broadcasts. This attractive loop trail passes through a forest of cedars and hardwoods, along the shore of spring-fed Swan Lake, and next to the cave entrance that forms a natural bandshell. Tours of the cave require reservations for one of their ranger-led programs. Over 8 miles of cave passages have been explored, and it is noteworthy for its large, sheltered entrance.
This is a very popular area and can become crowded. While the suburban setting never quite escapes the hustle and bustle of Clarksville, it’s a peaceful respite nonetheless, and a haven for waterfowl and wildlife.
Hike this loop clockwise, saving the best parts of the trail for last. Start at the marked trailhead by the upper parking lot and follow the Recovery Trail. You’ll quickly pass a trail leading to the cave that goes off to the right; keep going on the Recovery Trail. Go left at the next junction to stay on the Recovery Trail (you can take the Short Loop Trail if you’d like a 1.1 mile total route). The path winds through mainly wooded areas, up a hill and along bottomland, before reaching the other end of the Short Loop Trail and the shore of Swan Lake. Some stairs will take you to the mouth of the cave. From there, it’s a short walk back to the parking area.
19. Jones Mill Trail
Long Hunter State Park (website), Hermitage, Tennessee 4 mile double loop with shorter options available Difficulty: Easy first loop, moderate second loop due to hill climb Trailhead:N36.07455°, W86.50989° Highlights: Wildflowers, cedar glades, lake views
One of the newer trails in the Nashville area, the Jones Mill Trail was designed for mountain bikes, but makes for a fine hiking experience too. This double loop winds its way through forests and meadows, ranging from the shore of J. Percy Priest Lake to the top of Bald Knob.
A noteworthy feature of this trail is that it passes through several cedar glades. This unique habitat occurs only in Tennessee and Kentucky. Limestone bedrock is either exposed or covered only by a thin layer of soil, leading to plant life typically found in desert environments. The Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) is one of the interesting species you might see along this trail. This beautiful light-purple member of the sunflower family is found in less than ten locations, all within Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson Counties. Thought to be extinct in the 1960s, successful habitat preservation efforts of the Nature Conservancy and Tennessee State Parks have led to its removal from the endangered species list.
Bikers have the right-of-way on this trail: listen for them and be prepared to step aside and let them pass. Note that there is wide variance of reported trail distances. The park website lists it as 4.5 miles, and it’s commonly listed as 3.6 in hiking guides. My GPS recorded 4 miles for the two loops as well as the shortcut connector in both directions.
Just past the trailhead, note the “Direction of Travel” arrow and follow it to do the first loop clockwise. The trail will ascend gently through scrub brush and cedar glades, and there will almost always be wildflowers here during the warmer months. At about 3/4 mile in, a shortcut trail leading to the right allows for a quick return to the trailhead. The first loop completes in bottomland. A short there-and-back segment crossing an old stone fence leads to the second loop. Follow this loop clockwise as well, climbing the steep trail to the top of Bald Knob. You’ll parallel the lake shore for the rest of the hike, completing the Bald Knob loop, then staying left when you reach the first loop. The lake shore is easily accessible from this portion of the trail.
18. Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail
Duck River Complex State Natural Area (website), Columbia, Tennessee 1.8 mile balloon Difficulty: Easy Trailhead:N35.56813°, W86.88489° Highlights: River view, cave
The Duck River is the most biologically diverse river in North America, home to over 500 species of plants, 150 of fish, and 50 of mussels. It drains much of the southern portion of the Highland Rim, flowing into the Tennessee River southwest of Waverly. The Cheeks Bend tract of the Duck River Complex protects an overlook of the river.
This is a trail that is simply fun to do. My favorite part is a small cave leading from the top of the bluff to a riverside view below. Note that the cave may be closed at times to protect bats from the spread of white-nose syndrome; please respect the closure if the signs are present. The cave slopes downward steeply; watch your head! You’ll be able to see the light from one of its entrances throughout the passage.
From the trailhead, follow a there-and-back portion of the trail for about 3/4 mile to the loop junction. Keep left, coming quickly to the riverside bluff. After enjoying the view, look for the eye-catching blue and red blazes that denote the cave entrance, which is several steps behind you if you’re standing on the bluff facing the river. As you complete the loop portion, the porous limestone geography that lends itself to caves is obvious in the sinkholes and exposed rock.
17. Hidden Lake
Harpeth River State Park (website), Kingston Springs, Tennessee 1.9 mile double loop with shorter options available Difficulty: Moderate due to bluff-top trail around lake Trailhead:N36.08790°, W87.02458° Highlights: River views, stone bluffs, beautiful lake, historical interest, wildlife
The Hidden Lake tract was recently added to Harpeth River State Park, which protects several segments of this 115-mile tributary of the Cumberland and provides nine access points for canoe and kayak launches. This tract is easily accessed from McCrory Lane off I-40, and its appeal to both hikers and paddlers can lead to busy weekends.
This hike has a little something to offer to everyone. Abundant wildlife and birds will please any naturalist. Hidden Lake is formed by an abandoned quarry, and its deep blue waters make for picturesque views. The trail is interesting, climbing the rim of the quarry to circle the lake. The ruins of a resort from the 1940s add a little bit of long-ago pizazz to the hike.
The Blue Bird Loop Trail departs from the informational kiosk through a mowed path in a field, skirting the treeline at the banks of the Harpeth. A feeder stream marks the edge of the meadow. Follow the Hidden Lake Trail through heavier woods to a trail junction. Stay left on the Hidden Lake Trail. The steep bank to your right leads to one part of the quarry–scramble up it on the social trail if you like. Soon you’ll near the Harpeth again, and just around the corner is the first view of Hidden Lake. Climb the steep path around the edge of the quarry, enjoying several viewpoints over the waters. Stay wary of the steep edge! After skirting the lake, you’ll come to a junction with the Ridge Loop Trail. Choose whichever path you like–they wind up in the same place. A shortcut trail leads between the two halves of the loop. As the two halves meet again, you’ll find the ruins of the resort at the side of the trail. Turn left on the Hidden Lake Trail just as you complete your descent of the bluff and follow it back to the Blue Bird Loop Trail. Take the half you didn’t follow before back to the trailhead.
16. Bledsoe Creek
Bledsoe Creek State Park (website), Gallatin, Tennessee 3.1 mile loop with shorter options available Difficulty: Moderate due to one steep climb Trailhead:N36.37843°, W86.36026° Highlights: Wildlife, lake views, peaceful forest and pastureland
I’m quite fond of Bledsoe Creek State Park, as I grew up near Gallatin and visited it many times. Its lakeshore location makes for great wildlife viewing. Hawks, herons, egrets, turtles, ducks, and geese are common sights along the shore. The park is bordered to the north by open pastures, and the transitional zone between forest and meadow is prime habitat for whitetail deer.
The park also provides a special opportunity for natural encounters with the paved, ADA-compliant Mayo Wix and Birdsong Nature Trails. A long boardwalk and a boat dock are good viewpoints for wildlife watching as well.
Start at the Mayo Wix Trailhead, following the paved path to the Shoreline Trail. At the first junction, turn left for the quickest route, stay straight for a slightly longer one, or go right for the long way. After checking out the wildlife viewing area, follow the Shoreline Trail along the Bledsoe Creek embayment. You’ll pass near camping sites and cross a park road. The trail goes through a wider bottomland to the junction with the High Ridge Trail. Get ready, because the High Ridge Trail starts with a bang as it ascends a steep hill to (you guessed it!) the top of a ridge. The trail meanders along the ridge, with forest to the left and pasture to the right. You’ll pass junctions with the Owl Ridge Trail and a shortcut as the trail descends back to bottomland. After crossing the road by the park entrance, use the Mayo Wix Trail to return to the starting point.
Hiking is a fun activity, but a bit of preparation will pay off in comfort, enjoyment, and safety. Adventure Alan’s excellent article 13 Essentials for the Modern Hiker will help you be prepared with gear and skills to stay safe on the trail.
Leave No Trace
As we are fortunate to have such wonderful natural treasures to enjoy, so are we obligated to protect and preserve them. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a wonderful resource to learn about using these beautiful places in a manner that will leave them for future generations. Their 7 Principles should guide you in all your outdoor activities.
I recorded all tracks with either a Garmin GPSMap 60CSx or a Garmin GPSMap 64s. I cleaned the tracks to remove spurious points and split into separate trails (to allow each trail to be individually labelled) in Garmin’s BaseCamp software. I imported the tracks into CalTopo to generate the topographic map, then edited the resulting image in Adobe PhotoShop to add captions and icons.
All photographs were taken by me using either a Canon EOS 10D or a Canon 5D Mark II (with maybe the odd iPhone shot thrown in for good measure). I usually hike with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS lens, which is a good combination of versatility, image quality, and weight. I occasionally use a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS, or a Canon EF 17-40 f/4L.
It unfortunately bears saying, in our litigious culture, that you are responsible for your own safety while hiking. This includes evaluation of your own abilities and limitations, bringing proper equipment, evaluating the current conditions of a trail, learning appropriate outdoor skills such as navigation and safety around wildlife, and much more. I assume no liability for any consequence arising from your use of the information provided here, from any omission, or from any out-of-date or obsolete information.
4 stars. In winter 1959, nine Russian hikers, mostly college students, died at Holatchahl Mountain in the Urals under mysterious circumstances. The experienced group, led by Igor Dyatlov, was attempting a demanding winter ascent of Otorten to become Grade III hikers, a meaningful certification of ability. On the night of February 1, the seven male and two female hikers all fled from their shelter into sub-zero temperatures. A search party located the tent, finding that it had been sliced open from the inside. Their bodies were scattered several hundred meters or more from the tent. They were almost all lightly dressed, lacking the proper footwear and gear to survive in such a climate. The official inquest showed that six died from hypothermia and three from chest and/or skull fractures. Some radiation was found on the clothing of two victims. The investigation was unable to determine what made them flee their tent, citing an “unknown compelling force” as the cause of the incident.
With the mysterious circumstances, the deaths captured popular attention. Many theories have been proposed, from the unlikely (avalanches, Soviet missile tests) to the crackpot (yeti). The internet abounds with sites about the Dyatlov Pass mystery, yet provides few answers.
Film producer Donnie Eichar found himself caught up in the Dyatlov obsession, taking two trips to Russia and doing phenomenal amounts of interviews and research. Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident is his story of his research efforts and his reconstruction of the group’s travels and death, and the subsequent investigation. He paces that recounting with a chronicle of his trips to Russia and research in formerly secret Soviet files. His prose has a compulsive readability to it, and he gives lucid detail without being overwhelming. Best of all, his narrative of the nine unlucky hikers (and their tenth member, who was forced to turn back for medical issues) paints them as vibrant, intelligent, and energetic people who are worth knowing and caring about.
The volume is enriched by lots of pictures, both from the expedition itself and from the investigation.
While I don’t believe that the term “spoiler” applies to investigative nonfiction, if you do not wish to know the author’s conclusion, please go no further in my review.
Eichar makes a solid refutation of several of the pet internet theories regarding the hikers, including governmental conspiracy, avalanche, military weapons testing, and attack by the indigenous Mansi. He gives no credence to far-afield theories such as aliens or the supernatural. What he does arrive at is a theory of sub-audible sound waves called infrasound causing fear that motivates the hikers’ flight from their tent.
Eichar’s theory of infrasound-induced panic attacks requires me to accept three separate assertions:
1) The flow of wind over the domed summit of Holatchahl created a Kármán vortex street around the tent.
2) The Kármán vortex street created an infrasound event that was felt by the group members.
3) The infrasound event caused such panic in nine different people that they fled their shelter.
Eichar makes an informal case (based on the casual observation of site pictures by an NOAA scientist who is an expert in the field) that the first is possible, though I would have liked to have seen more rigorous analysis such as calculating the Reynolds number range of the site and using that to determine wind velocity that would generate the Kármán vortex street, the expected vortex velocity, vortex frequency, etc. (Math and science, YAY!) The second is certainly plausible, based on information that the author presents and a quick glance at the internet for verification.
The third assertion feels the least plausible. Eichar cites a 2003 infrasound study by UK researchers that found 22% of those exposed to an infrasound wave reported anxiety, chest pressure, nervousness, etc. He purports that the Israelis use an infrasound technique that creates nausea and dizziness to assist with crowd dispersal. However, it’s a great leap of faith to go from a feeling of unease or nausea to nine people fleeing in abject terror without a moment’s preparation for the environmental conditions. The author did not cite, and nor was I able to locate, any research indicating that complete irrational panic can be induced by infrasound. Given that Eichar explicitly describes the vortices around the tent as mini-tornadoes, I’d think there would be some evidence of people reacting with panic to infrasound generated by tornadoes, but I was unable to locate any.
Given that the group was entirely composed of experienced hikers with lots of previous exposure to hostile mountain environments, I find it highly unlikely that they all broke from reality so completely as to exit the tent without even donning shoes. It simply doesn’t seem sufficient explanation that these competent hikers went into such total and absolute panic as to flee from the tent like they did.
The evidence available is sufficient to support these conclusions:
-The hikers felt immediate mortal danger from remaining in the tent even for such a short time as would be needed to put on boots, gloves, etc.
-The group all evacuated the tent at once, as shown by the fact that another exit was made by slicing through the wall to facilitate the quick egress.
-The evacuation from the tent was directed and purposeful; all members of the party proceeded in the same direction rather than scattering in a panic.
-The purpose of the evacuation was not simply to be out of the tent. They continued to some distance from the tent, to the extent that some sustained injuries from falling into an unseen ravine that was quite a distance away.
What would make them flee from their tent under such conditions? Here’s my theory, which seems at least as credible as the infrasound theory:
The group is mostly settled in their tent for the evening, sheltered from the howling winds and bitter conditions. Someone–likely Thibeaux-Brignolles or Zolotariov, as they were in appropriate clothing for the elements–heads outside to answer the call of nature, or check the weather, or make sure the tent is secure. The bitter wind blows the snow across the slope above the tent. By limited light, the hiker outside catches sight of the roiling snow moving toward the tent. The worst case scenario instantly comes to mind, and believing they are soon to be swept away, the hiker yells, “AVALANCHE! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!” The party flees pell-mell downslope, becoming disoriented and separated. Dubinina, Kolevatov, and Thibeaux-Brignolles fall into the ravine, suffering traumatic injuries. By the time the panicked flight ends, they have covered so much ground and become so disoriented that returning to the safety of the tent is impossible given the conditions. Careful, reasoned study that an avalanche was highly unlikely in the terrain, as well as confidence in the skills of seasoned leaders such as Dyatlov and Zolotariov, could not match the split-second, terror-fueled belief that they were about to be buried under tons of snow.
Regardless of my skepticism about the author’s “Untold True Story”, Eichar’s book is a great read that balances the spooky facts of the incident with a narrative that makes the reader care about the Dyatlov group hikers and feel their deaths keenly. Dead Mountain isn’t a book that I will soon forget, and is well worth a read.
Trail highlights: beautiful mountain stream, lush forest and foliage, steep gorge, protected wilderness area, old flume from mining operation, picturesque twin waterfall, interesting trail with numerous stream crossings and a fun boulder scramble
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” — the Wilderness Act of 1964
Nestled in the Appalachian foothills of the Cherokee National Forest, the Gee Creek Wilderness in southeast Tennessee protects a beautiful creek as it tumbles down its gorge. The trailhead is at the end of a gravel US Forest Service road, with a moderate amount of parking and an informative trail kiosk.
The first half mile is a wide packed gravel path on the north bank of the creek with a gradual slope. A wooden bridge crosses the creek, and the trail enters the Gee Creek Wilderness. After this point, the gorge narrows in on the creek and the trail closely follows it past numerous small falls and pools.
The remains of a mining operation are the last traces of civilization along the trail. In the 1890s, the creek was diverted to wash silica, which was used in copper processing operations. The stream passes under a flume, and a concrete structure is visible on the right of the trail.
Shortly after the diverter, the creek forms a twin waterfall emptying into a pool. The trail crosses the creek here by stepping on rocks. There are seven more crossings along the trail to get to the turnaround point. I managed to keep my balance over the first three, then slipped and got my feet wet, so I just waded the rest of them.
The foliage is lush throughout, with lots of rhododendrons lining the trail. I bet it’s stunning when they are in bloom! In one place I had to squeeze through thick growth.
Trailfinding isn’t really that difficult; stream crossings are clear, though it may take a minute of observing to determine that the trail does cross at a given point. One of my favorite obstacles on the trail was climbing up and down a boulder. Again, nothing difficult but a brief pause to decide the best route might be needed.
Toward the end, the trail climbs the steep bank on the south side of the river, passing a good 40 feet or so over the water level.
The trail enters a wider, level hollow at the very end. There’s no marking for the end of trail that I saw, but a large pile of brush blocking further progress was a good indicator that I had reached the official end of the trail.
Gee Creek Trail was extremely fun, and a rewarding way to enjoy a little more of the Great Outdoors on an Ocoee rafting trip. If you’re looking for a campground in the area, I stayed at 2 Rivers Campground in nearby Benton and recommend it highly. Very nice campsites, and the location couldn’t be better–the campground is at the confluence of the Ocoee and the Hiwassee, and all sites are on one of the two rivers.
Hiking Tennessee by Victoria Steele Logue
Human Kinetics Publishers, April 2015
-Hike descriptions are super-detailed. A few of them might even take longer to read than to hike! Emphasis is given to pointing out natural and historical features found along the trail, making the descriptions far more than simply directions on how to complete the hike.
-GPS points are given for virtually every feature identified in the hike descriptions.
-This book is an excellent guide to Tennessee’s state parks. I think every state park with a trail or path of any sort is featured, with the exception of the two newest that opened within the last few months (Seven Islands and Rocky Fork). On the flip side, all but four of the areas listed are state parks–and there are tons of great places to hike in Tennessee that aren’t state parks!
-The overview text of each park is extensive, educated, and readable.
-I like the “hike finder” chart listing at the beginning, that shows the types of terrain and natural features found on each trail.
-This is a pretty book, well organized and a pleasure to read. The author is both knowledgeable and a clear communicator.
-The emphasis seems to be on very short trails. I count 14 “trails” under 1 mile, and 56 that are under 3 miles. In many cases, significantly better trails at a park are overlooked in favor of short jaunts. As an example, the wonderful 4.5 or so mile Cub Creek Lake Trail at Natchez Trace State Park is well worth a visit to the park for its water features, walk across the dam, combination ridge and bottomland hiking, and optional wire traverse across a stream (not to mention that it’s a loop that connects with a pair of beautiful bridges across the lobes of the lake, not a one-way trail as stated in the guide). The Fairview Gullies Trail, a 1 mile loop through astonishing erosive features, is another great choice. But this book gives a full page description of the half-mile Fern Nature Loop instead–a cute interpretive trail, but it’s not going to inspire anyone to drive the 100 or so miles from either Nashville or Memphis to hike it, whereas better choices would.
-The maps are very simplistic, just black and white drawings of roads, trails, water features, a few icons, and numbered points along the trail that refer to the legend and text descriptions. In many cases, these could be simply labelled on the map. No topo lines are shown, so ridgelines are not obvious at all, a glaring oversight. No scale is given. The overview maps of the park frequently don’t identify the trailheads for the hikes (and sometimes don’t even share any features!), which makes it difficult or impossible to match up the hike detail map to the park map.
As an example, check out these two maps from the Reelfoot Lake State Park entry. The first one is the overview of the park. The second is the trail map. Try to figure out where the trail is in the park. From the legend, it is clear that there are roads and bridges along the hike. Why are those not indicated?
-Elevation data isn’t readily found. This is a must for any Tennessee hiking book!
-The book is a big, heavy 8.5×11″ package that I really couldn’t see taking on a hike. Hello, scan and print and the questionable copyright law interpretation that entails…
Probably more “Walking Tennessee” than “Hiking Tennessee”. Good for its coverage of lesser-known trails, but all too frequently these are lesser known because they don’t present much in the effort/reward ratio. This volume could have been considerably better with improved maps and more compelling hike choices.
4.5 stars. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot is a story about the relation between landscape and people, and the ways that both leave their mark on the other. Robert Macfarlane conveys, through beautiful language, an appreciation of pathways, the feet that make them, and the terrain that directs their course. The journeys are set primarily in England and Scotland, with excursions to Spain, Palestine, and China. Along the way, Macfarlane discusses a variety of topics, ranging from the colorful people he meets to history to geology to literature.
This book is excellent as an inspiration for wanderlust. I particularly loved his descriptions of the Broomway, the pass through Lairig Ghru, his journey on the pilgrim’s way of Camino de Santiago, and the trek at Minya Konka–all of those seem like bucket list hikes!
Macfarlane is very talented with phrases. So many artfully-worded passages ring true:
“Paths are the habits of a landscape.”
“We easily forget that we are track-markers, through, because most of our journeys now occur on asphalt and concrete–and these are substances not easily impressed.”
“Time is kept and curated and in different ways by trees, and so it is experienced in different ways when one is among them. This discretion of trees, and their patience, are both affecting.”
So, why not 5 stars for a book that I enjoyed so much? Mainly for Macfarlane’s tendency to use prose and quotations not to enrich his passages, but to show how terribly clever and educated he is. Some parts of The Old Ways plod along, with erudite phrase after phrase, until my eyes glazed over.
I also found the chapters that concerned his journeys to be interesting, and those that concerned his ruminating to be less so. I was least taken with his capsule biography of poet Edward Thomas and his account of two sailing voyages in the Hebrides (this was, after all, subtitled “A Journey on Foot”). This is a “chapter a night” kind of book, not a “sit down and read it all the way through” book. Also, I’m a maphead–where are the maps? This book without maps is like a biography without a portrait of the subject!