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On exterior and interior paths

01 April 2016

Malcolm Doney takes a walk with a chatty literary guide

Pathlands: 21 tranquil walks among the villages of Britain
Peter Owen Jones
Rider Books £12.99
(978-1-8460-4443-4)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

 

THE pleasures of walking can depend not just on where you’re going, but who’s walking with you. In this case, the Anglican priest and broadcaster Peter Owen Jones is the appointed travelling companion, as he takes his readers on 21 circular walks in different parts of the UK. He invites us to join him on each three-to-four-hour walk, describing the weather, what he sees, who he meets, and what he thinks about.

In the preface, Owen Jones points out that, when we walk, we do so through two landscapes: “an exterior land of trees, seas, cities, mountains and fields and along the paths that lead to our interior world.” He is pretty good on the exterior land; he is knowledgeable and sometimes insightful about nature. While walking in Blatherwycke, Northamptonshire, for instance, he makes a fascinating discursion on the trails made by sheep, deer, and ants. And his descriptions can sometimes make you sit up: “the air smelt of old coats and peppermint.”

He is lively, and engaging. Funny, too. But, too often, when I wanted reflection, I got chatter; when I was hoping for perception, I received opinion. Owen Jones maintains a talkative stream of consciousness, which I’d probably enjoy over a pint, but which on a walk becomes wearing. There were occasions when I wanted to leave him behind, bound and gagged by a stile, and then continue on alone.

It’s a tricky thing being a literary travel guide. The skill is to help the landscape do the talking, and to lead the reader into some interior space where they can find themselves. Peter Owen Jones will probably do that for some, but not me.

 

The Revd Malcolm Doney is a full-time freelance writer and editor, and a priest.

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