|MIKE PARKER||Books: Wild Rover|
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Very much the follow-up to Map Addict, The Wild Rover took the map and used it to hit the hills. Like its predecessor, the book takes a subject that traditionally lurks in the background, and brings it blinking into the spotlight. Here, the story was of Britain's unique rights of way network and its often surprisingly bloody history. It involved an awful lot of walking, from a pilgrimage route in western Ireland to the riverside wharves of east London, a via ferrata on the Scottish coast to a corpse road across Dartmoor. Ghosts abound, none more so than that of the venerable Alfred Wainwright, who does his best to kill me on his famous Coast to Coast path.
It's also a book about wandering along the rocky tracks into middle age. There's nothing like contemplating the turbulent politics of land and access to bring into even sharper focus your loss of radical youth. And surveying the GoreTex-clad hordes out on the hills proved to be of little comfort; quite the reverse, in fact. As the miles squeaked past, I could only marvel at how we'd turned something so fabulously democratic and liberating into something so riddled with fussy one-upmanship and pedantry.
Two miles per hour
If that makes the book (and me) sound dour and fundamentalist, I apologise. In truth, the experience was intoxicating. I met wonderful new places and people, and even the parts of the country that I knew well revealed themselves in new shapes and colours as I passed by at a steady two miles per hour. The Wild Rover is a celebration of all this; of our connection to the land, those that have fought so hard to maintain and deepen it, and the many odd and hilarious bits of our national character that it so beautifully highlights. It was also a fine lesson in putting the map down every so often, and trusting the shape of the land instead.
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Buy the book
The Wild Rover by Mike Parker, published by Collins, £8.99
From the reviews:
"A genuine page-turner. A 300-page blend of history, anecdote and landscape-writing, he sets out to survey the cultural place of rights of way in Britain's - and his own - identity. Salty, funny, poetic, bitchy and sad, it's a study of a walker's relation to his land and fellow walkers" - Walk magazine
"Mike Parker makes of a book about footpaths a wonderfully exhilarating literary excursion on and off a hundred beaten tracks" - Jan Morris
"Chronicles with wit and insight a different connection with the countryside" - Western Mail