BOOK FESTIVAL – Robert Macfarlane

Robert Macfarlane
The landscape and some friendly ghosts
Monday 27 August 5:00pm – 6:00pm
ScottishPower Studio Theatre

Over the past few years a new movement of exceptionally well-written books about Nature has appeared.
A magical mix of the natural world and high-art. Each one attempting to reclaim individual experience in an age of technology and mass-connectivity.
Robert MacFarlane’s loose trilogy of works is pretty much a high-tide mark in terms of influence and quality.
Like Kathleen Jamie’s wonderful ‘Sightlines’, his book takes on simple ideas. In the case of his latest title, ‘The Old Ways’, it’s the turn of journeys made on foot along ancient pathways.
Macfarlane is a lyrical, eloquent writer, whose interests encompass art, geology, poetry, environmentalism and adventure.

This brief trip to Edinburgh is given a deliciously elemental cosiness by the rain that thunders down on the tent roof above our heads as he reads.

MacFarlane’s premise, accompanied by a modest slide show, is that we spend so much time in the twenty first century travelling by car, train or plane that we miss the truths and clues about ourselves hidden in the countryside around us.

As he goes about his exploration, he’s guided by the ‘ghosts’ of those who have gone before him. Perhaps the most significant of these is the poet Edward Thomas, alongside the artist Eric Ravilious.

In ‘The Old Ways’ Macfarlane examines the routes that mark – and in many cases lie hidden within or beneath – the landscape.

He traces the Icknield Way from his home near Cambridge to the Downs and walks the ‘most dangerous path in Britain’: the Broomway tidal road across the Maplin Sands in Essex where he strides into a mirrored world across its wet sands.

Next he takes us to Scotland, exploring the trackless motorway of the sea road through the Minches to the Shiants, Rona and Sula Sgeir and across peat and granite moors.

His ramblings aren’t confined to the UK, either.

MacFarlane travels abroad to walk in Palestine, he follows part of the Camino road in Spain and the pilgrim route around the feet of Minya Konka in Western Tibet, the most sacred mountain in Buddhism.

Wherever his explorations take him (and us) he draws out the connections between pathways and stories, reflecting on the different kinds of thinking and writing that have been inspired by travelling on foot.

This was a highly enjoyable and fascinating talk about journeys into the past, but also into the self.

MacFarlane’s work isn’t easy to define – that’s its beauty. It ponders on so many aspects of human life and existence: journeys, geology, time, history, companionship, solitude and spirituality.

In other words, wandering to set the mind wondering.

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