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Between the Chalk and the Sea

On sale

16th February 2023

Price: £22

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Selected: ebook / ISBN-13: 9781472280299
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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


‘Delightful’ – Country Life

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

When Henry VIII banned pilgrimage in 1538, he ended not only a centuries-old tradition of walking as an act of faith, but a valuable chance to discover the joy of walking as an escape from the burdens of everyday life.

Much was lost when these journeys faded from our collective memory, but clues to our past remain. 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.

Described as England’s Camino, this long-distance footpath carves through one of the nation’s most iconic landscapes – one that links prehistoric earthworks, abandoned monasteries, Saxon churches, ruined castles and historic seaports.

Over four seasons, travel writer Gail Simmons walks the Old Way to rediscover what a long journey on foot offers us today. In the age of the car, what does it mean to embrace ‘slow travel’? Why does being a woman walking alone still feel like a radical act? In an age when walking connects the nation, can we now reclaim pilgrimage as a secular act?

Winding 240 miles between the chalk hills and shifting seascapes of the south coast, Gail ventures deep into our past, exploring this lost path and telling a story of kings and knights, peasants and pilgrims, of ancient folklore and modern politics. Blending history, anthropology, etymology and geology, Gail’s walk along the Old Way reveals the rich natural and cultural heritage found on our own doorstep.

Reviews

Ben Rawlence, author of The Treeline and City of Thorns
Few books change the way you see familiar landscapes: this is one of them. A sacred, humble and rewarding journey, like the pilgrimage itself.
Raynor Winn
I loved this memoir - centuries of stories captured in the chalk, all told through the prism of one life.
Stephen Moss
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.
Neil Ansell
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.
Sophy Roberts, author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia
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.
Nicola Chester, author of On Gallows Down
Through four pagan seasons, following the ancient Gough Map and the Old Way, Gail Simmons pioneers a very modern pilgrimage, but finds that the past is not so far away . . . walking becomes an act of faith again - but also, it becomes an act of vulnerability and strength, loneliness and connection, peril, exposure and joyful epiphany. Gail makes a compelling journey over iconic chalk country - between the sea and what once was the sea, to a homecoming we can all aspire to.
Tanya Shadrick, author of The Cure for Sleep
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
Wanderlust, Stanfords’ Staff Picks
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
Helen Moat, BBC Countryfile
This is a book for the modern pilgrim, as well as nature and history lovers.
Country Walking
An absorbing tale
Church Times
A lively and well-informed companion that makes you - pilgrim or walker - want to see the places for yourself. It brings to life the world of pilgrimage, whether with its ancient focus on the goal, or the modern focus on the journey
Country Life
[Gail] is an engaging companion, bringing to life the places and people she meets en route and offering thoughtful reflections on what it means to travel - especially as a lone woman. Delightful.
Andy Wasley, The Great Outdoors
Such a joy to read . . . the author makes a great walking companion, sharing opinion, nostalgia and wit in warm tones. The Old Way deserves hikers' attention and love; we are lucky to have a chronicler as companionable as Simmons to tell its story.
TLS
The pace is pleasantly unhurried. Simmons observes the natural world with precision and affection from the modest summit of Ditchling Beacon to the sopping lowland of the Weald
Resurgence & Ecologist
Simmons is a veteran travel journalist, and she conveys a sense of place deftly . . . a welcome addition to the ever-growing library of British walking literature