Walking Books

Here’s an update on my list of books about walks and walking. Enjoy some armchair trekking!

There have been many books written about walking – the techniques of walking, the destinations, the journey, the effort, the spirituality, and so on, and there will likely be many more to come. This is a by no means exhaustive list of those books in English which I have read and which have inspired me. I’ll update this list from time to time as I come across new ones. Let me know which books about walking have inspired you.

Author/TitleDescription

Author: Emily Taylor Smith
Title: Around the Province in 88 Days
ISBN: 978-1-98828-668-6
A journal of the author’s walk around the coast of Nova Scotia in 2010. Written from the perspective of distance and published in 2019, it’s at least as much about growth, self-discovery, and perseverance as it is about the walk. And having moved to Nova Scotia, it was also a welcome introduction to the landscape and wonders of our new home, and the power of kindness to inspire.

Author: Emily Taylor Smith
Title: No Thanks, I Want to Walk
ISBN: 978-1-98972-533-7
A companion journal to the author’s previous work, this recounts her 2016 journey around the coast of New Brunswick and along the Gaspé Peninsula to Quebec City. As with her previous book, the self-discovery and insights are inspiring. The kindness of strangers is on full display throughout.

Author: Apsley Cherry-Gerrard
Title: The Worst Journey in the World
ISBN: 978-078670-437-8
An account of the Robert Scott expedition to Antarctica in 1910-13. The journey he refers to is one undertaken with 2 other companions to collect the eggs of emperor penguins in the depths of an Antarctic winter, an epic weeks-long hike which nearly killed them. The courage, strength, and deep bonds of companionship that were formed on that journey and then shattered when his companions died with Scott on the way back from the pole in 1912, are heartbreaking.
Author: Bill Bryson
Title: A Walk in the Woods
ISBN: 0385-408161
Comic, instructive, insightful, and far better than the film made of the book. Read it and draw inspiration from a middle-aged guy who found the determination to walk a big chunk of the Appalachian Trail.
Author: Nick Hunt
Title: Walking the Woods and the Water
ISBN: 978-1-85788-643-6
The subtitle is “In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn”. Wonderfully well-written, charming, and inspirational.
Author: Nick Hunt
Title: Where the Wild Winds Are
ISBN:978-1-85788-656-6
A follow-up to his previous book, walking in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor. In this new book, he walks about Europe tracing the paths of famous winds – the Foehn, the Mistral, and more.

Authors: Lonely Planet
Title: Epic Hikes of the World
ISBN: 978-1-78701-417-6
A candy store of a book, with more than a hundred walks worthy of your bucket list. Dip into it on a rainy winter’s evening and make your plans.
Author: Barry Stone
Title: The 50 Greatest Walks of the World
ISBN: 978-178578-063-9
A subjective listing, of course, and somewhat overly interested in walks in Europe, but nevertheless it covers not just the biggies – the Camino de Santiago, the Appalachian Trail, etc. – but also many lesser known, shorter walks that are bucket-listable and achievable by the average walker.

Author: Levison Wood
Title: Walking the Nile
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2633-7
An account of a walk the length of the Nile river. The journey is fascinating, the people he meets are more so, and the landscape is bucket-list stuff.

Author: Rory Stewart
Title: The Places In Between
ISBN: 978-0-14-305330-9
A lyrical book, inspiring and engaging, about the author’s walk across Afghanistan in early 2002, just after the fall of the Taliban.

Author: Will Ferguson
Title: Beyond Belfast
ISBN: 978-0-14-317062-4
Funny and informative, the author walks 800+ km along the Ulster Way in Northern Ireland.
Author: David Downie
Title: Paris to the Pyrenees
ISBN: 978-1-60598-556-5
Part travelogue, part history, part internal meditation, the author and his wife set out to retrace the medeval pilgrimage route through France along the way of St. James, to Santiago de Compostella in Spain.
Author: John A. Cherrington
Title: Walking to Camelot
ISBN: 978-1-927958-62-9
Two Canadians walk the McMillan Way, from Boston to Chesil Beach through the heart of rural England, drinking in history and savouring the journey.
Author: J.R.R. Tolkein
Title: The Hobbit
One of my favourite books, re-read many times, and far better than the overwrought movie version. The story is about much more than a walk, and yet Bilbo Baggins’ sub-title, There and Back Again perfectly describes my walks.

Favourite Walks

The other day, I was looking at the stats for this blog and checked to see what my most popular posts were. The answer was kind of interesting – of the top 20 posts on this blog, 19 of them are about different walks around Toronto. Collectively, those have generated more than 12,000 views.

That’s cool to think I’ve helped thousands of people enjoy walking around Toronto. Go TO!

The humbling part is that the majority of my posts have been about some particular scene or thought that’s occurred to me while walking. Those posts have been, how shall I put this, somewhat less widely viewed. Most of those have a handful of views (thanks Mom!) at best.

me contemplating the futility of my writing career ….

So this blog is helpful to people when I write about things that people want to look for – duh! – like gear reviews and walking routes and suggestions for places to try. Since we’ve moved out to the east coast, I’ve stayed away from those kinds of posts, because as a newcomer I didn’t want to claim any in-depth knowledge as yet.

Still, I do want to be helpful, so going forward I’ll try to include more like that featuring walks around the South Shore and Halifax, and other places in the Maritimes, and maybe some more back in TO whenever we are back to visit family.

To that end, check out my series called TO Walks and Maritime Walks, or my Gear Reviews, and see what those other readers have been browsing.


And if you want to help me out, you can buy me a coffee.

Excuses

I haven’t posted in a bit and now I’m thinking I should get back into the habit. Soooo many excuses …

I’ll get to it later.

I’m busy.

I have to make dinner.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera ad nauseam

But the other night, we were having dinner with friends and the topic of travel came up – who’s ready to get back into it? Another couple at the table said hey were, and had just booked a week’s walking tour around Mount Blanc for this coming summer.

When I heard that, I thought about the walks I was going to do in 2020 – Toronto to Ottawa along the TransCanada Trail. And the walks in 2021 – in Ireland perhaps, from Dublin to Kerry through Wicklow. The COVID kibosh came along and those had to be set aside to wait and now it’s 2022 and what walks am I doing this year?

COVID-19 has been and continues to be a challenge. We’re all tired of it, we all just wish it would magically go away. We’re getting there, and the signs are pointing in the right direction, but I’m not getting any younger, and those bucket list

walks aren’t going to walk themselves. Sooner or later, I need to get up and get out and get going.

So, here’s hoping 2022 offers a chance to do that.

Rainy Day Walks

Our autumn is settling into a steady procession of rainy days. I knew in moving to the Maritimes that it would be wetter than in Toronto, and now I’m seeing it first hand. It hasn’t been too cold yet, just more wet days than dry, a bit Irish-weatherish I suppose.

And so if you don’t walk when it’s wet then you don’t walk much, so out I go, as long as it’s not an actual gale – anything under Force 7 or 8 is fair game.

I don’t mind walking in the wet like that. Dressing for the weather is a given, but as long as I do then I’m comfy and while there might be some blustery areas around the town, there are usually sheltered areas too so you can stay out of the worst of it.

The colours are more subdued in the wet, but they stand out too, especially this time of the year – a brightly painted house against a slate grey sky is cheerful. The flashes of colour from wellies and rain gear, the holiday lights, the boats in the harbour, a bird or two, the painted chairs along the harbour walk.

And the scents are more subtle too – damp undergrowth and harbour water and pine trees and diesel.

I love the sounds of gurgling water in rivulets and gutters, drips and gushes and splashes and sloshes. The slap of a wave against a boat, and the sloppy surge under the wharf.

And when I get back, I can hang up my soaked hat and coat, put on warm dry socks, and light the fire, and finish my coffee while reading a book. Till the next day when I walk in the rain again.

Found

Out for a walk the other day, we came across something that I’d not seen before. A Nova Scotian artist named Angie Arsenault has created a little artists box of foraged inks made from natural ingredients – things like acorns and goldenrod and mountain ash roots – and put it on the trail beside the Lehave River in Bridgewater.

It’s called the Little Library of Foraged Inks, and it’s a fantastic find. We stopped and read her notes inside on how to use it

and came away smiling at the idea. It’s clever, it’s environmentally aware and awareness-raising, and most of all it’s fun. It’s a classic example of spreading joy through little acts of kindness.

It also reminded me of why I like to go for walks. I love to find these little things, sometimes man-made and sometimes natural, but either way always fascinating.

Life is full of goodness. Find some and share it.

About Town

I like walking around town here in Lunenburg, now that we’re a bit settled in. Several times a week I’ll do a bit of a wander, like a dog visiting his patch (though I promise I don’t mark my territory on lamp posts). If I go up the hill behind our house and then east along Lincoln Street,

I can wander past the art galleries and on towards King, and see if there’s a sale on a Stan’s Dad and Lad clothing store, or maybe some interesting specials at the Lincoln Street Diner, and the aroma of roasting coffee will tell me if the Laughing Whale is making a new batch.

And if I keep going past King and Prince and Hopson and Kempt and climb the hill on Lincoln towards Blockhouse Hill, I’ll go past a house that some folks are building that will be spectacular when it’s done, and sometimes they’ll be sitting out taking a break on their harbour-view deck. “Coming along”, I’ll shout, and we’ll wave to each other.

And then round the corner and up to Blockhouse Hill and round the park and up along Kempt a bit and then back west along say Townsend, past a few of the churches

and up and down the hills and along to Kaulbach, where I can swing right and walk up past the Hillcrest Cemetery entrance and take a turn past the wonderful Academy building,

and then swing back west along Lawrence and walk back to Kempt, and then go downhill past the Ironworks Distillery (yummm, smells like a new batch of rum is in the works) and left onto Montague Street.

And so back along Montague heading west a bit and then cut down onto Bluenose Drive and wander east along past public wharves and the dory boats and the Fisheries Museum, just mingling with the tourists.

Oh, the Bluenose is in port today.

And say, did I just hear a bit of German, and Farsi, and Hindi, and French, and Spanish. Plus those Yankee accents – oh yeah, must be that car with the New York license plates.

And speaking of license plates, is that car from Iowa? Haven’t see one of those all summer – COVID-19 is finally fading (fingers crossed) and the tourists are really back from all over.

And then keep going up into the Pioneer park and along the Harbour Walk – but look at that, someone has hung red dresses in the trees next to the historic plaques near the “pioneer” cemetery as a reminder that those early settlers didn’t arrive to an empty country and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are still missing and still missed and even a small town like Lunenburg cannot turn its back on history and social wrongs.

And then past that over to Falkland and left towards the park by the tennis courts where some older players are getting in a game, and then on past the arena and the curling club where the ice is now in and hockey and curling seasons are about to begin.

And past that around to the east through the basketball courts where some teenagers are having a game (yeah, the Raptor’s season starts soon!) and past the new Bluenose Academy and then down to Tannery Row and around back along Falkland and then up the Harbour Walk and then Montague towards home. A wave to John in the pizza shop, and a shout up to Robert our neighbour to the north who’s puttering about in the garden.

I like our little town. And I’m very grateful to be able to live here.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Paths

“Make your own path”; “pathfinder”; “trailblazer”; “path-breaking”; “the road less travelled” …

Our language has many words and phrases for the notion of navigation, and in particular for the notion of following an existing path or trying a new path, exploring and marking and creating a way to do things.

And often, as I’m walking, that notion is buried in a romantic corner of my brain – the idea that the path I’m walking is new in some way, that I’m the first person that day, that month, that year, or even, ever, who’s walked in that particular place.

It’s naive of course. Over more than 10,000 years of North American habitation, it’s very low odds that I’m the only person who’s stood in a given spot. But I feel it sometimes, that sense of specialness or uniqueness. I want to believe that I’m unique in my connection to a path or a place.

And yet I know that people have been here long before me. Walking about, I see signs of history and settlement. The very path I’m on is often the surest sign – the street or road or old railway line trail is man-made, so clearly I’m just another visitor that place.

Walking in a forest, “off the beaten path” as the saying goes, is perhaps less travelled but is still unlikely to be untravelled. A given scenic view or water course or hill or beach or meadow has probably attracted someone else’s attention at some point – if I think it’s a lovely spot then more than likely someone else has too.

It’s deeply moving for me, however, to imagine myself in the figurative shoes of that person who’s gone before. When, how long ago? What was the weather like? What did this spot look like then? What did the air smell like, what bird song did they hear, was there a tang of woodsmoke or a whiff of wild berries?

My education and upbringing put a far greater emphasis upon the recorded history of habitation – and who wrote the records but the Europeans who came to Canada a few hundred years ago? My schooling had nary a word written by or reflecting the stories and lives of the First Nations who were here thousands of years previously. Today I walk paths named, for the most part, by the late-comers – Cornwallis Street in Lunenburg, the Gaff Point Trail, the Harbour Walk, and sometimes in an aside to the previous inhabitants, names that echo that earlier existence more than acknowledge it.

But I wonder about the users of these paths, this land, before late-comers like me. In who’s footsteps do I walk? What would they say about the world I see now? What would they say about me?

Fog

“A foggy day, in London town, had me low, had me down …”

A Foggy Day lyrics © Ira Gershwin Music, Nokawi Music, Frankie G. Songs, Chappell & Co., Inc.

I was thinking of that Gershwin tune the other day, as I looked out the window. It was a foggy day in Lunenburg – I could barely see the near shore of the harbour let alone the other side. The air was heavy with mist, moisture clinging to your clothes. Not a particularly inspiring day for a walk.

And yet … the grey soft light brings out the softness of the colours of the houses. The heavy air dampens sound. It’s charming, in its way, and I like it as long as it doesn’t last for days.

So I headed out to the beach for a walk in the fog. There was a steady surge of small swells breaking, and the gulls would swoop out of the dimmed sky like wraiths. Plovers darted in the shallows and danced their way along the beach just keeping ahead of me as I walked. Clumps of seaweed marked the tide-line. I couldn’t see the headlands at either end of the beach from the car park, and they slowly loomed out of the mist as I walked the full length of the beach.

Fog can be lovely. And fog can be frustrating. You want clarity, to see what’s in front of you. Fog can be chilling and bite through to your bones – you want sunshine and warmth.

And fog can be mental and physical as well as meteorological. Sometimes we have that heaviness of spirit that we think of as being mentally fogged. And sometimes, there’s the longer term mental fog that comes with age or illness, the dimming of the light as our brain functions slow down.

But burning through, even then, there are still days when the sun shines in, the fog lifts. Those are the days to cherish.

“For suddenly, I saw you there, and through foggy London town, the sun was shining, everywhere” …

A Foggy Day lyrics © Ira Gershwin Music, Nokawi Music, Frankie G. Songs, Chappell & Co., Inc.

Barnacles

The barnacle is an admirable creature, if you value tenaciousness. It’s evolved to cling tightly to a surface, be it a rock or a ship’s hull, so that it can filter feed on the micro-organisms that float by. There are species of barnacles that even cling to a whale’s skin, forcing those creatures to scrape their hides against passing boats in an effort to dislodge the unwelcome passengers.

But barnacles cling on, and we should admire that strength of purpose. If you’re a barnacle, clinging power is a good thing.

And yet, on the other hand, to the whale or the ship owner the barnacle is a pest and an impediment. It slows them down and over time can accumulate to the point where they can only move with great effort, and even when they scrape them off the barnacles just keep coming back in a never-ending battle. Eventually, they must be tempted just to give up and let them collect and weigh them down to sink into the sea.

We all have our barnacles in life, those little things that weight us and slow us. For me it’s nagging injuries. When I was about 7 I was walking along a lake shore and stepped on a piece of glass. The cut didn’t seem serious at the time, but it was deep enough that it damaged the muscles and ligaments in the arch of my right foot, so that now I have one flat foot and one normally arched foot. That effectively makes my right leg shorter than my left, which causes my pelvis to tilt, which puts my back out of whack, and leads to bouts of sciatica. That barnacle has clung on stubbornly for more than 50 years now.

And there are others. A legacy of heavy work on a farm when I was in my teens, my achy knees warn me a day or two ahead of any change in the weather. And the jammed big toe on my left foot, which I did slipping on an (ironically) barnacle-covered rock on a beach in New Zealand, makes the joint of the toe and the ball of my left foot burn with pain sometimes. Or the broken big toe on my right foot, which I did tripping on some stairs, replays the original sharp pain when I’m walking in hiking boots. Or the torn calf muscle on my right leg, which I did playing catch with some of the players on the pee wee baseball team I coached, flares up once in awhile as a general soreness in the calf and achilles tendon.

All of these old barnacles mean that the first 15-30 minutes of a walk are a shakedown of little niggles, as I get warmed up and used to the nags and my brain tells them all to go away for awhile. At least that’s what often happens, but not always. Sometimes the barnacles are just too nagging that day, there’s too much resistance for the energy level that I have. They slow me down to the point where I just pack it in, a planned 2 hour walk cut down to 30 minutes.

I know we all have our barnacles, some physical, some emotional, and some spiritual. I tell myself that it’s a privilege to have lived long enough to feel them, and I know that they’re minor, relatively speaking – many people have far worse issues to deal with than my little pains.

But it’s human nature to focus on yourself and your problems. So for me, it’s better to admire the barnacle’s staying power and tenacity. Don’t give in to the barnacles, imitate them. Getting out for a walk and ignoring my barnacles is a way of blowing a raspberry at Father Time. After all, would you rather be the barnacle, or the whale?

Patterns

I’ve always had an eye for patterns, the repetition of a colour or shape or the reflection of movement in a pond or a stream. I look for them all around me, consciously and unconsciously. As I walk my eye will pick out a pattern, and sometimes I see that I am myself part of that pattern – the trail of footprints I leave on a beach or the flicker of my shadow along a sidewalk.

I love the structure and order that I can see around me – in rocks and lichens and tree bark and roof tiles and fences and waves and ripples and flocks of birds.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 61db87a4-c1f4-4a39-9848-afd39c4198c4_1_105_c.jpeg

Years ago, just after we were married, I took up my wife’s 35mm camera and spent years happily snapping patterns. And over time, I gradually found that I could leave the camera behind but still look for those patterns as I pass, and that the thrill of capturing that pattern in a photo has been replaced by an appreciation of the transitory nature of what I see.

I’m not Buddhist, but I think I can understand – imperfectly I’m sure – some of the Zen of a moment when I see something that is, at that particular time and place, the essence of a perfect pattern. It’s fleeting and I may only capture it in my mind’s eye for a split second. But I see it and I try to feel it and lock it away as a memory.

And yes, occasionally, I still get out my camera and try to record a pattern, if only to be able to share it with someone else. But that search for patterns is what keeps me walking, keeps me moving, keeps me engaged and interacting with the world around me.

Learning is in many ways the search for patterns in facts and figures, to organize them and arrange them in ways that explain what we see around us. I can remember being 7 or 8 years old and saying to a teacher, when she asked me how I was able to learn something so quickly – probably multiplication tables or some such – and replying that I just looked for the pattern in the subject and filed that away in my memory, and then seeing in her face a look of surprise. I suppose that 7 or 8 year olds seldom can articulate what they’re doing when they’re learning.

But for me that search for patterns to explain what I was seeing was natural then and it’s still natural now. The world is full of patterns, and patterns of patterns, in infinite complexity and loops and whorls. That’s what makes it interesting. Even straight lines can have depth.