Good Reading : November 2009
NOVEMBER 2009 ı goodreading 29 behind the book park. I have lots of memories of carrying a little red rucksack through Lamington National Park, around Dove Lake, and over the Warrumbungles. My partner, John, on the other hand, has a less active family. (Once, his dad, after hearing our plans for a long walk through the Tuscan countryside, asked if there wasn't a bus we could take instead.) Luckily, John was quickly infected with the walking bug and day- walks became a regular part of our travel. My work (that necessary evil) is in book publishing, and almost twenty years ago I started publishing my own craft books. This took me regularly to Europe to attend bookfairs in Frankfurt, London and Bologna. John offered to come along and car ry things, so we were soon adding walking excursions on to these jaunts. These early walks were perhaps three or four days long, leaving excess luggage at a rail station and traipsing through the European countryside in a leisurely circuit. One year we booked a 10-day self- guided walk, our luggage transported each day to pre- booked accommodation. The experience got us hooked on longer walks, but we missed the independence of choosing our own stage lengths, and the Scot in me objected to the sizeable mark-up on the cost. Thereafter, we planned our own jour neys, something that's remarkably easy to do in Europe. Friends, curious about our travels, quizzed us on how we'd chosen the setting and researched the route, so we started publishing guidebooks with plenty of photographs to give others an idea of the places that could be reached on foot. And what places there are! We walk through tiny villages with twisting cobbled lanes and communal wash- houses and bread ovens, past grizzled herders sitting atop hills with their flocks, near wildlife that shyly watches you back, through nar row gorges with walls of shifting colours, and by sea-stacks topped with a noisy coating of nesting birdlife. Recently we've been working out an obsession with mountains. Not climbing them, I hasten to add, but simply walking amid them. This is, admittedly, more demanding than meandering along a river valley or waltzing through vineyards, which is why we thought we'd better do it while we still can. Our most recent trip included a 10-day trek over the Vanoise Alps and the Gran Paradiso, crossing from France into Italy via an airy route where there was definitely no passport control. The previous winter had seen ecord snowfalls and much of it was still covering the passes, with he turquoise rings of semi-frozen kes nestled below. If this wasn't hallenging enough, we followed up with a two-week traverse of the Dolomites in northeast taly, a dramatic range of spires for med from uplifted sea-beds. At altitudes of over 2500 metres, we walked over rocks embedded with the fossils of 200-million- year-old shellfish. There was also quite a lot of going up and down, along with vertiginous edges and precarious ladders in an adventure playground for grown-ups. All this derring-do makes us sound much hardier than we eally are. We plan our walks to ensure we have a bed and a hearty meal -- cooked by someone else -- each night and with this level of sustenance it's amazing what ou can achieve. The difficulty of a walk, however, is not the point. My eal route on foot is one that takes ou through interesting landscapes, uched by history and inhabited parsely) by people with a strong ultural heritage. It's also a journey hat gives you the opportunity to hink about other ways of living n an environment and how your wn life fits into the larger scheme of things. The Lycian Way, Turkey's irst official long-distance path, is a fine example and walking along t for eight days gave us insights that we could never gain from a seat on a bus or a towel on the beach. Slow Journeys is my attempt to help you find the ideal path for you and to set you on your way. Slow Jour neys by Gillian Souter is published by Allen & Unwin, rrp $29.99. A high point with John and Mont Blanc. John on Turkey’s Lycian Way. John on New Zealand’s Routeburn Track. Gillian near a quiet Alpine hamlet.
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