Thomson, H. 2012 The Green Road Into The Wood Preface Press ISBN 978 1 848 09332 4
“An immensely enjoyable book: curious, articulate, intellectually playful and savagely candid”
– John Gimlette, The Spectator
“An ideal companion – knowledgeable, but refreshingly unpretentious”
– Tom Robbins, Financial Times
Perhaps the mood of this book is best captured not by the words of the author Hugh Thomson, but by Kenneth Grahame:
“Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking – a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree – is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe – certainly creative and supersensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside of you and as if it were talking to you whilst you are talking back to it. Then everything gradually seems to join in, sun and the wind, the white road and the dusty hedges, the spirit of the season, whichever that may be, the friendly old earth that is pushing life firth of every sort under your feet or spellbound in a death-like winter trance, till you walk in the midst of a blessed company, immersed in a dream-talk far transcending any possible human conversation.”
Kenneth Grahame, ‘The Fellow that Goes Alone,’ 1913 quoted on page 212.
As an escape from jetlag, from the imminence of losing your home and from the pain of divorce it seems to me that Hugh Thomson’s plan was a good one: to take a Green Road from Dorset to Norfolk, to walk a route relating to the Icknield Way, in order to order your thoughts, take stock, and reacquaint yourself with a multi-layered and many-faceted England.
“I will be following as near as I can the old route of the Icknield Way, which has some claim to be the most ancient road in the country. As early as 3000BC it linked the world of the Mediterranean, whose traders landed along the coast from here to Cornwall, with the world of those northern Europeans who came to East Anglia – a prehistoric highway between these two points of entry to England, slicing diagonally across the country from Dorset to Norfolk, with lay-bys at all the great prehistoric sites: Maiden Castle, Stonehenge, Avebury, a string of hill forts and finally, on the Norfolk coast, Seahenge.
London and the south-east were avoided. Only far later, from the Roman invasion in AD43, did all roads start there and Dover become a principal port. But that suits me. I want to take the temperature of England, and slicing across it from the south-west to East Anglia is the perfect way to do so.”
Hugh Thomson, writing in the Financial Times about his journey
Thomson’s journey is enriched, and partly told, by the characters he meets along the way. And the ways he takes are the old ways, the drover-roads and tracks, the paths and ditches half covered and tunnelled by alder, bramble, beech and oak that can still just about be traced across England.
“Thomson always reminds us that the world is not, after all, explored.” Benedict Allen
Hughes’ journey follows in the footsteps of many others, he keeps company with Robert Macfarlane‘s recently published The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot; Edward Thomas‘s 1913 account of walking The Icknield Way; and the writing of Roger Deakin.
He is an illuminating companion, his wide experience, for example, of the Inca heartlands provides a fascinating lens through which to decipher Bronze Age Britain. his voice is original and engaging; proof perhaps that it is the walker, not the path, that counts.
“To walk across England is to encounter many myths, both ancient and modern. They would make the hundreds of miles ahead of me all the richer; and while the pie from the butcher’s in Abbotsbury was now cold, it made a satisfying end to my first day along what lays claim to being England’s oldest path.”
By taking a 400 mile journey from coast to coast, through both the sacred and profane landscapes of ancient England, Hugh casts unexpected light – and humour – on the way we live now. A grand, and gently beguiling, read.