26.oldwyas_newThe Old Ways

Robert Macfarlane in conversation with Finlay Macleod

The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot (2012) is the third in the ‘loose trilogy of books about landscape and the human heart’.  It was acclaimed as a ‘tour de force’ by William Dalrymple in the Observer.  The book describes the years Macfarlane spent following ‘old ways’ (pilgrimage paths, sea-roads, prehistoric trackways, ancient rights of way) in south-east England, north-west Scotland, Spain, Sichuan and Palestine.   In it he discovers a lost world – a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts; above all of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations.  Lewis & Harris feature prominently with chapters and character profiles of 4 extraordinary Islanders; Ian Stephen, Steve Dilworth, Finlay Macleod and Anne Campbell, notably on a voyage on a sgoth niseach to Sula Sgeir.  Of these, if anyone, Finlay Macleod has been a mentor to Robert without whose knowledge, wisdom, generosity and direction he would not have made the deep connections that would inform The Old Ways.

Showered with praise and awards The Old Ways was chosen 18 times as a Book of the Year for 2012.   An abridged version was broadcast as Book of the Week on Radio 4 in June 2012.

Robert Macfarlane was born in Oxford in 1976 and is a writer, critic and academic. After studying at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and teaching in Beijing, he was made Fellow in English Literature at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 2002. At Cambridge, he teaches and lectures on Anglo-American fiction since 1945, post-modern theory, literature and environmentalism, and the history of the novel. His Ph.D. was on George Eliot, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.  He writes regularly on fiction for, among other publications, the Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, The London Review of Books,and The Observer.

His book, Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2003), a travel-history about the Western love affair with mountains, won the Guardian First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.   It is an account of the development of Western attitudes to mountains and precipitous landscapes, and takes its title from a line by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

 The Wild Places (2007) explores the wildness that remains in Britain and Ireland geographically and intellectually and describes Macfarlane’s explorations of forests, moors, salt marshes, mudflats, islands, sea-caves and city fringes.   The book won the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature,  the Scottish Arts Council Non-Fiction Book of the Year and joint winner of the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Festival.   Macfarlane is presently writing Landmarks, a book of essays about language and place; and Underland, an exploration of subterranean worlds and cultures, which includes among its subjects limestone, caves, claustrophobia, the baroque, cataphilia and urban exploration.


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