March 6 is UK World Book Day

We highlight some British books about walking

Nadia Halim, March 5, 2014

March 6 is World Book Day in the United Kingdom, a place with a great tradition of walking and also of writing about walking. We thought we’d take this opportunity to look at some British books on our favourite subject.

Many cities in the UK have Jane’s Walk festivals; the latest to join is Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire. Mark Brereton, the Stoke-on-Trent City Organizer, recommends Street Photography Now by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren. Mark writes, “I've chosen it because it inspires me and just makes me want to get out there and explore the streets. You can smell and hear the streets through the photographs. Everyday life captured in a beautiful eye.”

The City Organizer for Coventry, Joanne Truslove, recommends The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert McFarlane. Says Joanne, "This is an amazing book about people and place: about the ways we are shaped by the landscapes we move through. The book covers natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. McFarlane discovers that walking is not just a means of travel but a means of feeling, knowing and thinking. After reading this book, you will never think the same way when walking again."

In the UK and Ireland, the focus of World Book Day is on encouraging children and youth to read. There are plenty of books that will encourage them to walk as well! Adventure Walks for Families in and Around London, one of a popular series by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis, is full of child-friendly ideas for exploring the capital.

If you’re planning on walking through some places of historical importance, and you’d like some ideas about how to experience them a little differently, try the Countertourism books by the Crab Man, a.k.a. author and artist Phil Smith. They’re funny, imaginative guides for people interested in “getting under the skin of the heritage sites they visit and starting to think sideways about what it means to be a tourist,” writes Smith. What happens when you decide to explore a site of legendary medieval violence as if it were a crime scene, and you an undercover investigator? What if, instead of photographing the much-photographed artifacts, you photograph stains on the walls, or the signs telling you what not to touch? What if you simply try to meet the gaze of every marble bust and bronze hero?

There is also an entire genre of British memoirs about epic walks. In the late 1990s, television presenter Janet Street-Porter walked 500 miles of footpaths for her television series Coast to Coast; she compiled her stories and photos from the trek in the book Coast to Coast: From Dungeness to Weston-super-Mare and Cardiff to Conwy. Iain Sinclair walked the M25 -- a road that “encircles London like a noose” -- and wrote London Orbital about the experience.

Finally, no roundup of British walking literature would be complete without a nod to Will Self, whose “Psychogeography” columns for The Independent are collected in a book of the same title, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Self’s love for walking includes a penchant, when visiting new cities, for travelling from airports on foot. In the introduction to this book, he describes walking from his home in South London to Heathrow Airport, flying to New York, then walking from Kennedy Airport into Manhattan -- a combined distance of about 46 miles.

Have you got a favourite book about walking? Tell us about it in the comments!


Photo by Nadia Halim -- Vintage books for sale at London's Portobello Road Market 


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