Ramble On tells the story of outdoor access (specifically walking) through a series of journeys, through not only the landscape of the British Isles, but through literature and popular culture. The works of Wordsworth and Keats sit side by side with the “Carry-On” films, assisting the author to expand on a wide variety of subjects, all tied up under the umbrella of walking. From why we walk, to where we walk, to what we wear to walk, all covered with a fresh and at times witty eye. The layout of the book is such that it would translate well to television, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up there at some point.
Each chapter deals with a topic and a journey, and covers areas which I am familiar with through personal experience and others only through books or television. It does, as you would expect, focus more on England, but Scotland and Wales don’t go unmentioned. Indeed the chapters on Rannoch Moor and on The Cairngorms will be of particular interest to those whose walking is centred in Scotland, although they aren’t confined to two brief chapters, the issues within often having cross border relevance. It deals not only with the subjects which you would expect to find in such a book, the 1932 mass trespass at Kinder Scout, and the musings of Alfred Wainwright, but with a host of others. Walks along the Thames Coastal Path and the canals of Birmingham look at urban reclamation in the face of the decline in heavy industry. Class war and trades unionism, foot and mouth, power generation, all are touched upon to some degree, but there are omissions. One of the regular topics of conversation amongst walkers is the effect on the landscape of windfarms, and while hydro power and the accompanying pylons are discussed the rotating elephant in the corner isn’t. Neither is the age old bone of contention as to whether waterproof trousers go outside or inside gaiters, but perhaps that would require a volume in itself.
The cover illustration invites you in, and I found the book engaging from the start. To me, it reads like a ramble in that each chapter beckons you on, teasing you and informing you, before hitting the metaphorical barbed wire fence or ‘private, keep out’ sign, which the author has strung in my path. I must admit that perhaps once or twice each chapter had me reaching for the dictionary, scrambling for definitions to what are, to me, some of the more obscure words in the text. Perhaps it’s more a sign of my ignorance than the authors’ great wealth of vocabulary, but I found the regular noting down of words for later research interrupted the momentum of the book. Still, I now know about 50 new words….
This is a great book which should be read by anyone with an interest in access and the right to roam. If you’ve ever gone down a path and been confronted by a ‘No Trespassing’ sign which has made your blood boil, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.
Ramble On by Sinclair McKay
Published by Fourth Estate