12 February 2017

In praise of walking

Three excerpts from Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot:
"...once you begin to notice them, you see that the landscape is still webbed with paths and footways... pilgrim paths, green roads, drove roads, corpse roads, trods, leys, dykes, drongs, sarns, snickets - say the names of the paths out loud and at speed and they become a poem or rite - holloways, bostles, shutes, driftways, lichways, ridings, halterpaths, cartways, carneys, causeways, herepaths."

"Americans have long envied the British system of footpaths and the freedoms it offers, as I in turn envy the Scandinavian customary right of Allemansratten ('Everyman's right').  This convention - born of a region that did not pass through centuries of feudalism, and therefore has no inherited deference to a landowning class - allows a citizen to walk anywhere on uncultivated land provided that he or she cause no harm; to light fires; to sleep anywhere beyond the curtilage of a dwellilng; to gather flowers, nuts and berries; and to swim in any watercourse..."

"Soren Kirkegaard speculated that the mind might function optimally at the pedestrian pace of three miles per hour, and in a journal entry describes going out for a wander and finding himself 'so overwhelmed with ideas' that he 'could scarcely walk'.  Christopher Morley wrote of Wordsworth as 'employ[ing] his legs as an instrument of philosophy'... Nietzsche was typically absolute on the subject - 'Only those thoughts which come from walking have any value' - and Wallace Stevens typically tentative: 'Perhaps/The truth depends on a walk around a lake.''  In all of these accounts, walking is not the action by which one arrives at knowledge; it is itself the means of knowing." 
I can't rate the entire book because I only had time to browse a couple chapters, but I do enjoy a book that challenges me with new words.
drove road/droveway - road or track along which livestock are (or historically were) regularly driven

corpse road

sarn - (Welsh) a causeway

snicket - A narrow passage or alley (Northern England).  Synonyms: ginnel, twitchel.

lichway - path by which the dead are carried to the grave


1 comment:

  1. In my part of the UK, on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fenland, the word "drove" is still common usage. There are droves - green roads which have been in use for hundreds of years - surrounding the village I live in, linking waterways, villages, agricultural areas and some other sites which have long vanished. The Devil's Dyke, a Saxon ditch-and-bank fortification and pathway which stretches across the countryside for eight miles in a straight line (part of which crosses Newmarket race course) terminates a hundred yards from my front doorstep. It's mentioned as a working fortification in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 905AD. The droves are considerably more recent; they were added to the landscape as the fens were drained, much of that activity taking place in the 17th century.

    Some of the words Macfarlane has picked out are local dialect from other places in the UK. My husband's snicket is my alleyway; it's my mother's ginnel.


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