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Extended Audio Sample The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (318 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Robert Macfarlane Narrator: Robin Sachs Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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From the acclaimed author of The Wild Places comes an engrossing exploration of walking and thinking.

In this exquisitely written book, Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge, England, home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove roads, and sea paths that crisscross both the British landscape and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, and of pilgrimage and ritual.

Told in Macfarlane’s distinctive voice, The Old Ways folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology, and literature. His walks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird islands of the Scottish northwest, from Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he crosses paths with walkers of many kinds—wanderers, pilgrims, guides, and artists. Above all this is a book about walking as a journey inward and the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move. Macfarlane discovers that paths offer not just a means of traversing space but of feeling, knowing, and thinking.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Macfarlane immerses himself in regions we may have thought familiar, resurrecting them newly potent and sometimes beautifully strange. In a moving achievement, he returns our heritage to us.”

    Colin Thubron, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Narrator Robin Sachs sets an entrancing tone for the essays, luxuriating in the scenic descriptions and poetic language. Sachs will have listeners enchanted by historical details, smiling at the people met along the way, and cringing at the harsh realities of nature. Sachs gives each speaker a perfect accent, infusing every word and sentence with remarkable beauty. The essays are uplifting yet realistic, awe inspiring, eerie, and filled with so many details that memory retention would be difficult without the print version. For a simply enjoyable listening experience, this audiobook is a treat. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award.”

    AudioFile

  • “In this intricate, sensuous, haunted book, each journey is part of other journeys, and there are no clear divisions to be made…The walking of paths is, to [Macfarlane], an education, and symbolic, too, of the very process by which we learn things:  testing, wandering about a bit, hitting our stride, looking ahead and behind…This is a spacious and inclusive book, which allows for many shifts in emphasis, and which, like the best paths, is always different when you go back to look at it again.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “From the very first page…you know that the most valuable thing about The Old Ways is going to be the writing…I found myself hoarding images like trophies as I turned the pages…It is like reading a prose Odyssey sprinkled with imagist poems…You never get the feeling that the poetry is being used to prettify what he sees. His omnivorous eye takes in everything, and his camera-shutter brain records it.”

    Sunday Times (London)

  • “Here is a book by a writer who, above almost everything else, and most valuably, is an enthusiast about what it means to put one foot in front of the other…Fine writing—in the sense of precise, careful, and original prose; lyrical without being pretentious—does exist. Macfarlane is an example of it. His virtuosity isn’t unobtrusive…You see these trees and pathways, you hear those birds. And there really are few prose writers who take such a poet’s care with cadence…A book about what we put into landscape, and what it puts into us. If you submit to its spell you finish it in different shape than you set out:  a bit wiser, a bit lonelier, a bit happier, a whole lot better informed.”

    Spectator (London)

  • “A magnificent meditation on walking and writing…This is not a book about the history of pedestrianism nor the outward bound movement but something consciously set much higher than that: a sequence of sixteen long meditations on the place of walking in human consciousness, each set in a different, sparklingly realized stretch of the world.”

    Telegraph (London)

  • “A beautifully composed new book about walking and the imagination…Macfarlane doesn’t just observe, he participates and he has the prose to recreate the intensity of life for the reader…Sentence after sentence delivers thrilling perception…Macfarlane himself is the most observant, imaginative, and accomplished wayfarer we have.”

    Evening Standard (London)

  • “In Macfarlane, British travel writing has a formidable new champion…Macfarlane’s recklessly poetic and sometimes almost mystical speculations are always very firmly rooted in the precision of his observation and reporting and irrigated by the wide variety of different interests he brings to his book…[He] can also tell a good story and is companionable and funny…Above all, perhaps, Macfarlane brings to his books his love and knowledge of the natural world, and so cross-fertilizes the rich till of his travel writing with the loam of another very English tradition of observational literature: nature writing…He is poetic and lyrical in his approach to the natural world but can also be precise and scientific…Macfarlane is read above all for the beauty of his prose and his wonderfully innovative and inventive way with language…He stoops with unerring accuracy on his prey—the perfect image, the most elusive metaphor—and he can write exquisitely about anywhere.”

    Observer (London)

  • “In the Romantic tradition, Macfarlane connects inner with outer and shows how place and mind interpenetrate…He grapples objectively with facts…and is a respectful user of cartography, archeology, and natural history. But he is also fascinated by himself, his pleasures, fears, tiredness, and the state of his feet. He is equally alert to the human history associated with these walks.”

    Independent (London)

  • “I am a longstanding admirer of Robert Macfarlane’s work, and I was enthralled by this new book—again, a marvelous marriage of scholarship, imagination, and evocation of place. I read him for vicarious experience—he takes me to places I can never visit, never could have visited. He creates for his readers landscapes in the mind, and the largesse of his references sends you off into all kinds of ancillary reading. I always feel exhilarated after reading Macfarlane.”

    Penelope Lively, prizewinning author

  • “I don’t give blurbs but I have to make an exception for Robert Macfarlane. He seems to know and have read everything, he steadily walks and climbs through places that most of us would shy away from and his every sentence rewrites the landscape in language crunchy and freshly minted and deeply textured. He never takes a short cut and he makes the long road seem like life itself. Surely the most accomplished (and erudite) writer on place to have come along in years.”

    Pico Iyer, acclaimed travel writer

  • “A magnificent and beautiful book, the best Macfarlane has written. The Old Ways shows that landscape is more than a route to understanding; it actually is understanding, at least when known and felt in that material-ethereal way of which Macfarlane is the master.”

    Adam Nicolson, award-winning author

  • “Macfarlane (The Wild Places) returns with another masterful, poetic travel narrative…Breathtaking.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 

  • The Old Ways celebrates the civility of paths, thin lines of tenacious community threaded through an ‘aggressively privatized world.’ There is something sustaining about that tenacity, and something humbling too…We are, after all, just passers-­by.”        

    New York Times Book Review

  • “The author’s love of the land and his elegant use of metaphor make for a moving book that anyone who loves being part of nature will treasure.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award
  • One of the 2012 Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Nonfiction
  • A Kirkus Reviews “New and Notable Title” for Nonfiction, October 2012

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Florence | 2/12/2014

    " The author is fascinated by ancient walking trails and sea lanes. He invokes the history of those who created them as he actually retraces their footsteps in the present day. His language is obscure, though poetic and very beautiful. There is a glossary in the book, but it is incomplete and you will need a comprehensive dictionary to fully understand the prose. As you would expect, English trails are chalky and the landscape is cool and green. Other locations are mountainous, war-torn or nearly obliterated by time. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Kathleen | 2/7/2014

    " This book leaves me a bit torn because in theory I might have liked it, and Macfarlane seems like a nice enough guy and has the odd idea that can be quite moving, but overall it felt pointless. The writing, about which many get so enthusiastic, is obtrusive. So many sentences are over-crafted and slow the reader down. Instead of showing the landscape the metaphors are distracting, referring to all sorts of wildly disparate things. There's a nice attempt to link landscape and lives, or walking and memory and time. Yet it's a curiously antisocial book. Macfarlane's always describing the individual artists he goes walking with but there's so little social life, especially in Britain. A brief reference to tramps and people forced to walk because they have no homes gave a glimpse of another book that could have been far more interesting. Also, there are a lot of 'I's and yet Macfarlane remains quite reticent, partially perhaps because he keeps his family life out of the book. It felt like a lot of words and not much narrative. As a side note, for me, the greatest writing about walking is Cormac McCarthy's: The Road, but more especially The Crossing (which also has horses in parts but still, his writing feels a lot like walking). "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Michael | 1/26/2014

    " Beautifully written and sometimes hilarious. A nice read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Diane | 1/15/2014

    " A must for anyone who walks or has ever walked on old pathways, traveled to ancient locations or wants to dream of such places. I have this as both an e-book and an audio book. Love both formats, but especially enjoy listening to the way McFarlane weaves the story of pathways and footfalls through personal and societal history, geology, landscapes and politics. "

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