Midwinter. Okay, call me a wuss, but when the daily temperature range is -15º to -30º, I spend less time outdoors and more time reading. And being a “professional” walker, I read a lot of travel writing.
To be a good travel writer, one who explores culture, landscape and self, you must be a walker. Some personal favourites by great walkers and skillful writers: Wilfred Thesiger (Arabian Sands); Colin Fletcher (The Man Who Walked Through Time, The Thousand Mile Summer); Dervla Murphy (Eight Feet in the Andes, In Ethiopia with a Mule); Peter Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard); Paul Theroux (Kingdom by the Sea).
In addition to the above, here are three that still make me smile (walkers should never take themselves too seriously). I am rereading all three this winter and recommend them to anyone who enjoys a pedestrian journey through landscape and culture.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby. Two novice mountaineers travel into northern Afghanistan in 1956 to attempt an unclimbed peak in the Hindu Kush. Humour in the face of hardship and a chance encounter with one of Britain’s last great explorers make this a travel lit classic. As described by reviewer Boyd Tonkin: “Genial godfather of modern British travel writing, Eric Newby taught a generation of adventurers how to blend the light touch with the long view.”
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. A critically acclaimed author dons backpack, boots, and all the other paraphernalia required for long-distance trekking, to explore the sublime and ridiculous on America’s most popular long-distance trek. “When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.”
Beyond Belfast: A 560-Mile Walk Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet by Will Ferguson. A relatively recent title (2009) by a Canadian humorist. Ferguson set out to discover his ancestry by hiking the Ulster Way around the edges of Northern Ireland. Mostly he discovered this “national” trail is more concept than reality and that some wounds from the worst days of “the troubles” are still open. “Great scenery, oddball characters and much hilarity” says The National Post.