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Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781472280305

Price: £12.99

ON SALE: 25th April 2024

Genre: Lifestyle, Sport & Leisure / Natural History

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‘I loved this memoir’ – Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path

‘A whole new way of looking at a familiar landscape’ – Neil Ansell, author of The Last Wilderness

‘Simmons observes the natural world with precision and affection’ – Times Literary Supplement

An old map. A lost pilgrimage route. A journey in search of our walking heritage.


On an antique map in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a faint red line threading through towns and villages between Southampton and Canterbury suggests a significant, though long-forgotten, road. Renamed the Old Way, medieval pilgrims are thought to have travelled this route to reach the celebrated shrine of Thomas Becket.

Over four seasons, travel writer Gail Simmons walks the Old Way, winding 240 miles between the chalk hills and shifting seascapes of the south coast, to rediscover what a long journey on foot offers us today. What it means to embrace ‘slow travel’ in the age of the car? Why does being a woman walking alone still feel like a radical act? Can we now reclaim pilgrimage as a secular act?

Blending history, anthropology, etymology and geology, Gail’s walk reveals the rich natural and cultural heritage found on our own doorstep.

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Reviews

Few books change the way you see familiar landscapes: this is one of them. A sacred, humble and rewarding journey, like the pilgrimage itself.
Ben Rawlence, author of The Treeline and City of Thorns
I loved this memoir - centuries of stories captured in the chalk, all told through the prism of one life.
Raynor Winn
This is a brilliantly modern take on one of the oldest of literary genres - the pilgrimage narrative. Gail Simmons walks a long-forgotten trail, and along the way encounters places, people and a myriad of obstacles, for who walks so far in today's car-obsessed world? But this is no ordinary walk, but one with a purpose: to discover the meaning of what it means to be British in these troubled and disjointed times.
Stephen Moss
As she follows a long-lost pilgrimage route, Gail Simmons finds a whole new way of looking at a familiar landscape. Every footstep is steeped in history, every path is imbued with the traces of all those who came before.
Neil Ansell
A stunningly evoked, sensitively drawn journey into a part of England that feels both ancient and entirely new. Such is the subtle power and lightly-worn erudition of Simmons' writing.
Sophy Roberts, author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia
Through four pagan seasons, following the ancient Gough Map and the Old Way, Gail Simmons pioneers a very modern pilgrimage, but finds that the past is not so far away . . . walking becomes an act of faith again - but also, it becomes an act of vulnerability and strength, loneliness and connection, peril, exposure and joyful epiphany. Gail makes a compelling journey over iconic chalk country - between the sea and what once was the sea, to a homecoming we can all aspire to.
Nicola Chester, author of On Gallows Down
An old route for pilgrims is given new and vivid life through Gail Simmons as a solo woman walking. A compelling blend of history and nature writing that is a gift to all of us who love this iconic stretch of chalk cliffs and downland
Tanya Shadrick, author of The Cure for Sleep
Wandering the Old Way across 386km of the UK's south coast allows Simmons ample room to touch on history, folklore and modern politics. Along the way she also delves into what long walks, such as the old pilgrim trails, mean to us today and why being a woman walking along still feels like a radical act
Wanderlust, Stanfords’ Staff Picks
This is a book for the modern pilgrim, as well as nature and history lovers.
Helen Moat, BBC Countryfile
An absorbing tale
Country Walking
A lively and well-informed companion that makes you - pilgrim or walker - want to see the places for yourself. It brings to life the world of pilgrimage, whether with its ancient focus on the goal, or the modern focus on the journey
Church Times
[Gail] is an engaging companion, bringing to life the places and people she meets en route and offering thoughtful reflections on what it means to travel - especially as a lone woman. Delightful.
Country Life
Such a joy to read . . . the author makes a great walking companion, sharing opinion, nostalgia and wit in warm tones. The Old Way deserves hikers' attention and love; we are lucky to have a chronicler as companionable as Simmons to tell its story.
Andy Wasley, The Great Outdoors
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
TLS
Simmons is a veteran travel journalist, and she conveys a sense of place deftly . . . a welcome addition to the ever-growing library of British walking literature
Resurgence & Ecologist