PETER OWEN JONES has often been seen in his unbuttoned cassock striding around in countryside documentaries. His brilliant idea in Everest England is to string together 12 days of hill-walking that make a cumulative ascent equivalent to Everest. They describe an arc from Cornwall to Cumbria, from easy hills to England’s highest mountain.
His rules will be familiar to many retreatants: no news, radio, weather forecast, alcohol, hash, phone, or visiting of friends, and bed at nine. Though the AA is his publisher, he says nothing about the daily drives; so the reader lacks his sense of a joined-up journey. He expresses the hope of doing it again by public transport. Good luck with that.
There are brief directions and exquisite photos, but the bulk of the book is Owen Jones’s ruminations as he walks each day. He is particularly good on the quality of light and the soundscape — “the path turns to grit. It’s there in every step, softer than gravel and louder than sand” — as well as the smell of his appalling boots and the sodden desolation of fogbound Kinder Scout.
By Day Six, he is starting to have ingenious fantasies about people he sees in passing, like the woman collecting worms for her koi carp: “They live perhaps in a small dug pond that sits just beyond the patio, they may well have been her late husband’s passion. He would fuss over them, especially when he found it hard to communicate what he was feeling.”
Less successful is the author’s writing style, which lapses too easily into feyness and straining for effect: “And it is true, many lone walkers do die on account of the wounds they are carrying at the time. They die of bereavement, they die seeking the cure for betrayal, from the dark pain of lost love.”
But, however overwrought the writing, best of all is to follow Owen Jones’s example, get your boots on, and start climbing your own Everest.
The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.
Everest England: 29,000 feet in 12 days
Peter Owen Jones
Church Times Bookshop £11.70