Dykes, Drongs, Sarns, Snickets
- The English Lakes: A History by Ian Thompson
Bloomsbury, 343 pp, £16.99, March 2012, ISBN 978 1 4088 0958 7
- The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane
Hamish Hamilton, 432 pp, £20.00, June 2012, ISBN 978 0 241 14381 0
Both these books, in very different ways, are founded on what we experience when we frequent wild country – sometimes virgin, more often partially domesticated. We leave our prints on it, our tracks, and used by generations these become a track, a trail, a trod, a path, a highway. Ever since my memory began I have followed such tracks with foot and eye: the stony, grassy drove roads along which herds and flocks travelled from Aberdeenshire to southern trysts and marts; the white blaze where scree pours down a mountainside from a gap in a solid crag; the slowly vanishing wake left by a liner among the flying fish of the Arabian Sea. These books are preoccupied with the highly conscious enjoyment of wild country, although both writers know that the aesthetic savouring of the land – the ‘landscape’ – must overlap with more workmanlike uses of it.