Between the Chalk and the Sea

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Author: Gail Simmons

Category: Lifestyle , Sport & leisure

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Headline

ISBN: 9781472280305

RRP: $24.99

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‘I loved this memoir’ – Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path

‘A whole new way of looking at a familiar landscape’ – Neil Ansell, author of The Last Wilderness

‘Simmons observes the natural world with precision and affection’ – Times Literary Supplement

An old map. A lost pilgrimage route. A journey in search of our walking heritage.

On an antique map in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a faint red line threading through towns and villages between Southampton and Canterbury suggests a significant, though long-forgotten, road. Renamed the Old Way, medieval pilgrims are thought to have travelled this route to reach the celebrated shrine of Thomas Becket.

Over four seasons, travel writer Gail Simmons walks the Old Way, winding 240 miles between the chalk hills and shifting seascapes of the south coast, to rediscover what a long journey on foot offers us today. What it means to embrace ‘slow travel’ in the age of the car? Why does being a woman walking alone still feel like a radical act? Can we now reclaim pilgrimage as a secular act?

Blending history, anthropology, etymology and geology, Gail’s walk reveals the rich natural and cultural heritage found on our own doorstep.

I loved this memoir – centuries of stories captured in the chalk, all told through the prism of one life.

As she follows a long-lost pilgrimage route, Gail Simmons finds a whole new way of looking at a familiar landscape. Every footstep is steeped in history, every path is imbued with the traces of all those who came before.

Few books change the way you see familiar landscapes: this is one of them. A sacred, humble and rewarding journey, like the pilgrimage itself.

Wandering the Old Way across 386km of the UK’s south coast allows Simmons ample room to touch on history, folklore and modern politics. Along the way she also delves into what long walks, such as the old pilgrim trails, mean to us today and why being a woman walking along still feels like a radical act – Wanderlust, Stanfords Staff Picks

This is a brilliantly modern take on one of the oldest of literary genres – the pilgrimage narrative. Gail Simmons walks a long-forgotten trail, and along the way encounters places, people and a myriad of obstacles, for who walks so far in today’s car-obsessed world? But this is no ordinary walk, but one with a purpose: to discover the meaning of what it means to be British in these troubled and disjointed times. – Stephen Moss

A stunningly evoked, sensitively drawn journey into a part of England that feels both ancient and entirely new. Such is the subtle power and lightly-worn erudition of Simmons’ writing.

An old route for pilgrims is given new and vivid life through Gail Simmons as a solo woman walking. A compelling blend of history and nature writing that is a gift to all of us who love this iconic stretch of chalk cliffs and downland

This is a book for the modern pilgrim, as well as nature and history lovers. – BBC Countryfile

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