Category Archives: Literary, artistic, spiritual

Book Review: “Walks of a Lifetime: Extraordinary Hikes From Around the World”

Book Review: Walks of a Lifetime: Extraordinary Hikes From Around the World

by Robert and Martha Manning, Falcon Press, 2017.

Hurrah! Another elegant invitation from the Mannings to ordinary folks to try long distance walking!

Martha and Robert Manning on the Kumado Kodo Pilgrimage Walk, Japan, Courtesy Robert Manning

Walks of a Lifetime (2017), like the Manning’s first guidebook, Walking Distance (2013), alternates compelling descriptions of 30 exceptional walks around the world with brief essays on aspects of walking. With these intelligent companion volumes, Robert and Martha Manning are now firmly established as discerning and trusted guides to some of the world’s best walks.  Their approach goes way beyond your typical “trail guide”.

Essays in Walks of a Lifetime delightfully amplify themes in the walk chapters, connect the reader to the larger world of long distance walking, and inspire closer attention to the world we walk.  The 30 topics include trail angels, pilgrimage, urban walking, philanthropic walking, place, and the philosophy and ethics of walking.  The authors celebrate the joys of advance research, discuss how to prepare and how to enjoy serendipitous “misadventures” along the way, and offer advice on answering the inevitable question, “how long will it take?”.  Further, they explore the expanded field around walking by musing on ecotourism, health, walking as political statement, walking as art, and they contemplate the existential conundrum of journey vs. the destination.

Each walk portrait presents the sort of information that never goes out of date, for example natural and cultural history, land management context, weather and terrain.  Descriptions are useful, satisfying, but hardly exhaustive.  Instead, the reader will be stimulated toward further research, and to embrace walking as a process of life-long learning. Robert contributes knowledges honed by decades of research and teaching on national parks around the world, and he also provides hundreds of high quality photos.  Martha, an artist, speaks and writes as an astute observer full of practical advice.  Both husband and wife have an eye for natural beauty, topography, and unique landscape features.  They also share their infectious enjoyment of people, culture and cuisine.   Specifically, the walk descriptions include:

  • Orientation to the landscape and its natural history, including geology, wildlife, botany, weather, soils, bodies of water, etc.;
  • Cultural highlights of each area, including history, archaeology, museums, culinary traditions, agriculture, architecture, language, thermal baths, and local lore;
  • The context of the trail/traverse: how the trail came to be, how it operates, nearby and connecting trails, the challenges and unique features of the parks and natural areas it traverses, the broader trail system and walking culture of the nation/region in which it exists; and
  • Photographs that visually define each experience.

And, of course, practical information and advice is included:

  • Getting to the trail head and back, getting around in the region;
  • Availability of food, water, accommodations, bathrooms, campsites, etc.;
  • How to hike the trail in sections, other possible modifications, and adjacent trails;
  • Level of difficulty, type of terrain, safety considerations, and tips about gear;
  • Trail protocols (important do’s and don’ts) and environmental ethics.

In Walks of a Lifetime the authors expand our concept of long distance walking beyond hiking remote woods and tramping distant fields to include sauntering through some of the world’s most populous cities (Sydney, New York, Paris and San Francisco).  They also include a range of bucolic to backcountry walks in places like Arizona, Hawaii, Georgia, Utah, Colorado, Maine, N.H., China, France, New Zealand, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Scotland, England and Wales.  And they take us on treks in some of the most isolated locations in the USA such as Denali in Alaska, Havasu Canyon and Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness in Arizona, and Popo Agie Wilderness in Wyoming.

The Manning’s continued emphasis on long distance walks for ordinary people is a refreshing corrective to the current craze for “through hiking” on such trails as the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trail.  Such hikes, requiring months of time and almost superhuman effort, are not for ordinary people. This book is a tonic for the rest of us.  In fact, in Walks of a Lifetime, the Mannings offer even gentler and more accessible walks than in their previous guide.  They include four urban saunters, and also describe a higher proportion of domestic (U.S.) walks (seventeen) than in the 2013 volume (twelve).  As to level of difficulty, this latest guide includes seven walks of low challenge (compared with two in the previous book) and eight that are categorized as high challenge (compared with twelve in the previous book).

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, an Urban Walk, Courtesy Robert Manning

The latest volume is published by Falcon Press, a specialist in trail guides.  The earlier guide, published by Oregon State University Press includes an index, further reading suggestions at the end of each chapter, a bibliography, and a sprinkling of sparkling quotations throughout.  The Falcon Press publication omits these extras.  I missed these.

One quibble: the maps in Walks of a Lifetime are extremely rudimentary.  While providing the highly detailed topo maps necessary for walking the walk is clearly not within the scope of this guide, better maps would definitely aid in amplifying the author’s text and in supporting the walker’s planning.  Falcon Press is capable of doing better by its authors and readers.

Readers new to long distance walking will find themselves in good hands as they select a walk and plan for their first trip.  Experienced walkers will enjoy perusing the options shared by the well-travelled and insightful authors. Written with intelligence, grace and gentle humor, the Manning’s two guides are perfect gifts for friends and family.  Each volume effectively encourages new readers to get off the chair, take a long walk, and savor the wonders of nature and culture at a slow pace.  Both guides are also highly recommended for libraries serving communities with interest in outdoor recreation.

Sam Demas, October 2017

Trip Report: Pilgrimage to Iona

By Hut2Hut Pilgrimage Editor Amanda Wagstaff


View of the abbey complex on Iona © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

I arrived in Glasgow and immediately realized that I was overdressed. It was only the first of June, but a spell of cloudless summer weather had overtaken the west of Scotland. As I walked across town with my backpack, I could feel sweat dripping down my face and the beginnings of sunburn on my neck. I was a mess by the time I reached Queen Street Station.

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Virtual Pilgrimage on the Saint’s Road, Co. Kerry

Kilmalkedar church, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland - one of the sites along The Saint's Road © Deborah Wagstaff 2016

Kilmalkedar church, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland – one of the sites along The Saint’s Road © Deborah Wagstaff 2016

One of my favorite resources for information on Irish pilgrimages is Louise Nugent’s “Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland.” Nugent is an archaeologist who specializes in medieval Irish history and culture, and she uses her blog to document her trips to pilgrim sites.

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Pilgrim Path to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne

by Amanda Wagstaff, Hut2Hut Pilgrimage Editor

The Pilgrim's Path to Holy Isle © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

The Pilgrim’s Path to Holy Isle © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

My pilgrimage to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne began on a RyanAir flight from Dublin to Edinburgh. I was seated next to a woman and her toddler, Molly. Molly was a very active little girl – standing in mummy’s lap, singing, and doing choreographed dances… Mum was very patient and calm with her daughter’s antics and was prepared with lots of potential distractions to keep the little girl from getting restless. One of these was a bag of small plastic figurines. While I sat reading Robin Davidson’s “Tracks,” Molly pulled toys out to the bag one by one, and told her mum their names.

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Nan Shepherd featured on Five Pound Note!

Amazing!  Nan Shepherd, author of “The Living Mountain” — one of the finest books on mountains I’ve ever read — was selected by the Bank of Scotland to grace the five pound note. Not only is her beautiful visage featured, but several quotes from her elegant writings are included on the note.

What a testament to the literary culture in Scotland, and to that nation’s appreciation of mountains, walking and women!  When will this sort of thing happen in USA?!

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A Festival of Walking Art & Ideas at Carleton

Walk! logo

Prof. John Schott of Cinema and Media Studies at Carleton College has organized an interdisciplinary celebration of walking and walking art called “WALK! A Festival of Walking, Art and Ideas”.  This Walking Festival, features art and media projects, wide-ranging lectures, and many public walking events.  

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Tóchar Phádraig: Pilgrim Path in Co. Mayo, Ireland

by Amanda Wagstaff, Hut2Hut Pilgrimage Editor

The holy mountain Croagh Patrick

The Tóchar Phádraig path to the holy mountain Croagh Patrick © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

I left Dublin early in the morning for Castlebar. I was going to walk the Tóchar Phádraig, or St. Patrick’s Causeway, the pilgrim walk from Ballintubber Abbey to the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick. The bus ride through the midlands of Ireland was beautiful, cloudy with instances of sun, rain, and hail. (Yea, all of those.)

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News: Great New Yorker article about Via Alpina and the hut-to-hut experience

Poet, writer and walker James Lasdun has published a wonderful exploration of the delights and challenges of the famous Via Alpina, and the experience of walking hut-to-hut.  Published in the April 11, 2016 issue of the New Yorker magazine, this is a delightful and serious essay on the Via Alpina, a trail that wends its way through 8 nations and has more than 300 huts spaced a days walk apart.  He describes parts of the trail, gives glimpses of hut life, and relates his own challenges and observations in walking a portion of the trail in the Triglav National Park in Slovenia.  Its not often that an American general interest magazine devotes space to describing the hut-to-hut experience, and this one — humorous, well-written, and informative — is an especially worthy contribution to America’s growing consciousness of the hut experience of long distance walking.

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Gifts from Glendalough by Amanda Wagstaff

I left early in the morning for Glendalough to join a group of pilgrims on St. Kevin’s Way. Glendalough,”glen of two lakes,” is the site of a medieval monastic city in County Wicklow, south of Dublin. It was founded in the 6th century by the ascetic monk Kevin and has been a destination for pilgrims ever since. St. Kevin’s Way is the pilgrim path the leads from the small village of Hollywood, through the Wicklow Gap, to the doorstep of St. Kevin’s monastery. I was very excited to do my first pilgrimage in Ireland and impressed to see the parking lot full of cars and walkers, despite the rainy weather. And then someone broke the news to me: the pilgrimage was cancelled. The local mountain rescue team had advised the organizers against doing the pilgrimage because several sections of the path had been replaced by small but rushing rivers.

I was so disappointed.

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Revival of Irish Pilgrimage Paths

by Amanda Wagstaff, Hut2Hut Pilgrimage Editor

View of the holy mountain Croagh Patrick, ancient pilgrimage site, Co. Mayo, Ireland, © Amanda Wagstaff, 2010

View of the holy mountain Croagh Patrick, ancient pilgrimage site, Co. Mayo, Ireland, © Amanda Wagstaff, 2010

March 22th-29th, 2016 is Pilgrim Paths Week in Ireland. This national event, which takes place simultaneously at various pilgrimage sites, first started on Easter Saturday 2014 in an effort to revive interest in Ireland’s ancient pilgrim paths. It’s been growing ever since. Not only do many Irish citizens walk these paths, but many foreign visitors, including myself, have been attracted to these ancient pathways, many of which date from prehistory.

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