doubling back

Doubling Back is an updated edition of a classic book published 10 years ago, as the author ‘doubles back’ to follow in the footsteps of others, walking paths across the ‘holy island’ of Lindsfarne in Northumberland, the Isle of Sky, Norway and Kenya. Following paths of writers and relatives gone before, Linda charts how places in writing and memory create ‘wrinkles in time’ and geography that allow us to walk in the footsteps of others.

Join her, as she cross the Swiss Alps to retrace the mountaineering past of the father she barely knew, follows the escape route of a Norwegian scientist on the run in the Second World War, of simply celebrate the joy found in ‘friendly paths’ of her local regualr terrain, and the ritual of returning home. This revised edition includes an account of a new journey through northern Scotland’s Flow Country (the peatland that is our chief carbon store).

Wonderfully explores the strange durability of the paths that we make in our lives, in our dreams and after our deaths. Robert Macfarlane

Not so much a book to inspire you to do her walks, but to challenge you to enjoy your own walks more. Sara Maitland

Linda Cracknell is a writer on the natural world, and also writes radio scripts. This book was serialised for BBC Radio. All her writing is inspired by place, and she also teaches nature writing.

a walking pilgrimage from Southampton to Canterbury

between the chalk and the sea

Between the Chalk and the Sea is the story of how the author decided to walk the 240 winding miles between the chalk hills and shifting seascapes of the south coast, to rediscover a journey she found (as a faint red line) on an antique map in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. This Old Way was walked from Southampton to Canterbury by medieval pilgrims to reach the celebrated shrine of Thomas Becket.

Why does being a woman walking alone, still feel like a radical act? Blending history, anthropology and geology, Gail’s walk reveals the rich natural and cultural heritage, found on our own doorstep.

The pace is pleasantly unhurried. Simmons observes the natural world with precision and affection, from the modest summit of Ditchling Beacon to the sopping lowland of the Weald. Times Literary Supplement

Dr Gail Simmons is a lecturer on nature and travel writing at Bath Spa University. A former journalist, she previously ran travel writing courses at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

a pilgrimage to discover changing seasons

diary of the lost seasons

Forecast: A Diary of the Lost Seasons is Joe Shute’s tracing of the history of how our weather is changing, as he travels across Britain looking at daffodils in December, frogspawn in November, swallows that no longer fly home – and floods, wildfires and winters without snow. Nothing is now behaving as it should, in this nod to how weather changes are reshaping our world (and our cultures and memories – as the very thing they subsist on is slipping away).

Joe Shute is a writer and journalist with a passion for the natural world. He writes features for The Daily Telegraph and is the newspaper’s long-standing ‘Weather Watch’ columnist.

a 500-mile solo walking pilgrimage in Spain

the gathering place

The Gathering Place is a poetic tale of Mary Colwell’s 500-mile solo pilgrimage along the Camino Francés, a route through forests, mountains and places of worship in northern Spain. This nature campaigner joins the millions of people who have taken this route over the past few hundred years.

But this pilgrim took the route between lockdowns in 2020, and was virtually alone. Giving her time to focus against the backdrop of nature – but not without its dramas – she even meets a demon slayer!

Mary Colman is an environmentalist who has campaigned to have Natural History on the school curriculum. She studied earth sciences and physics, and co-founded the charity Curlew Action.

walking 20 miles North each day (through Spring)

across a waking land

Across a Waking Land is the story of nature writer Roger Morgan-Grenville, who sets out on a 1000-mile walk through a British spring, to see if there are reasons to be hopeful about the natural world. His aim is to match the pace at which oak leaves emerge (roughly 20 miles north each day). Fed up with bleak headlines of biodiversity loss, he fights illness, blizzards (and his own ageing body) to visit every main habitat from between Lymington and Cape Wrath, in an epic 8-week adventure. And meets those who are fighting for nature (along with kind strangers) with life-changing and positive conclusions.

Roger Morgan-Grenville is a former soldier who now writes and campaigns on conservation issues. He is chair of trustees of the conservation charity Curlew Action.

lessons from walking three Ancient Ways in England 

pilgrimage walking three ancient ways

Pilgrimage: Lessons from Walking Three Ancient Ways is the story of how a Bath-based award-winning author put one foot in front of the other, to walk three pilgrimages to help her through difficult times. She firstly walked the Pilgrim’s Away (from Southwark Cathedral in London to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent).

The next year (recovering from COVID), she walked St Cuthbert’s Way (from Scotland to Lindisfarne in Northumberland). And then she finished by walking Camino de Santiago along the coastal route (from Portugal to Spain). Together, these three solo pilgrimages changed the way she saw life – and now shares these lessons.

I stood on the footbridge over the river and looked down into the depths, thinking of how Virginia Woolf had filled her pockets with stones and walked into a river just like this. How easy it would be to do the same. It was September 2020, and I was not okay. I had to do something before I damaged myself beyond repair. I could not control the pandemic, but I could walk out the door with my backpack. I could take one step at a time, all the way to Canterbury Cathedral. Perhaps I could walk my rage and grief into submission.

J F Penn is a writer who lives in beautiful Bath and enjoys walking by the canal and reading lots of books. You can find lots of free resources to accompany the book on her website.

a walking peace pilgrimage across Europe

the path of peace

The Path of Peace is the story of how Anthony Seldon set out on a 35-day pilgrimage from the French-Swiss border to the English channel (without a permanent home, a wife or job, nor any clear sense of where life was going). The route of this 1000 km journey was inspired by Alexander Douglas Gillespie, a young British solder during the First World War, who dreamed of creating a ‘Via Sacra’ so men, women and children of Europe could walk to honour the fallen.

He himself was killed in action and his vision forgotten for 100 years, until a chance discovery in the archives of an ancient English school inspired Anthony to walk and establish the route. Travelling from Champagne in France through haunting trenches, Anthony battles heat exhaustion to blisters, but is rewarded with a deeper sense of inner peace and renewed purpose on what matters most on life.

A timely, eloquent and convincing reminder that to forget the carnage of the past, is to open the door to it happening again. If anyone needs persuading that a 1000km Western Front Way would be educational, this is the book they should read. George Alagiah

Anthony Seldon is an historian who has written several biographies of different Prime Ministers. He recently wrote of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who never showed up for an event aimed to promote Shakespeare) that ‘He had no deep interest in any classical history, language, literature or Shakespeare. His examples were always for show. At his heart, he is extraordinarily empty’.

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