Damian Hall's Favourite Walking Books

03/08/15

In his first regular column, outdoor journalist Damian Hall discusses walking books. Which are the best and why?

Most keen outdoorsy folk will be familiar with Bill Bryson’s wonderful A Walk In The Woods and will probably have felt as intrigued as me by this trailer.

The film looks fun and will hopefully celebrate the highs and lows, the camaraderie and curious chafes, of long-distance walking. Though a cynic might point out their backpacks look like they're full of balloons rather than tents and sleeping bags...

Hollywood does like to ruin a good story, though, and the trailer hints at what they might do [SPOILER ALERT!] about the fact erstwhile Yorkshire Dales resident Bryson didn’t actually complete the Appalachian Trail. (Not that it makes the book any less enjoyable.)

The trailer also got me thinking about the best – or at least, my favourite – walking books. A cursory glance at my over-burdened bookshelf throws up predictable names – Robert Macfarlane, Tristan Gooley, Jon Krakauer, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Richard Mabey, Chris Townsend – who've all written books about the great outdoors that belong in the canon.

There are less well-known books I've enjoyed even more than these though, which could be down to context. I was tramping around New Zealand's wonderful Great Walks when I read Kiwi Tracks by Andrew Stevenson, which is about the very same thing. Albeit his story is tinged with a subplot of a recently broken relationship, which gives it an irresistible pathos.When I was researching for my Pennine Way guide, I enjoyed two very funny accounts of walking the National Trail, Pennine Walkies by Mark Wallington and One Man And His Bog by Barry Pilton. Even if they contribute to the Pennine Way's unfair reputation as one long, soggy, bog-slog, both had me chortling heartily. (Though in truth as I read one straight after the other I can't actually tell them apart.)But Bryson's A Walk In The Woods is probably still my favourite. He's not really an adventurous type (if you want Bryson-style humour with much bigger cajones, try Tim Cahill – the American writer rather than the Australian footballer). But he's an infectiously witty writer. I especially like this:

“We had hiked 500 miles, a million and a quarter steps. We had grounds to be proud. We were real hikers now. We had shit in the woods and slept with bears. We had become, we would forever be, mountain men.”

And:

“Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.”

I've realised my favourite walking books are the funny ones. After all, voluntarily walking day after day, gaining aches and scrapes, blisters and chafes, with – to the non-walking world at least – no real purpose, is an amusingly curious thing to do. Long-distance walkers, more than most, do need to step back and laugh at ourselves.

Damian Hall

@damo_hall

Damian Hall is an outdoor journalist who’s completed many of the world’s famous and not-so-famous long-distance walks, including Everest Base Camp trek for his honeymoon. The tea-loving hillbilly is author of the official Pennine Way guide and his newest book, Long Distance Walking in Britain, is out soon. There’s plenty more self-aggrandising hogwash on Twitter and at www.damianhall.info.




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