The Best Books About Walking

Best books on walks and walking

The top books on walks and about walking 

I love walking. I also love reading. So here I bring together where these two passions collide in my list of favourite walking books. These that are books that have inspired adventures, instructed me in navigation techniques, educated me in the advantages of walking, helped me plan treks or just simply helped me to relax and escape to another place when my legs are too tired to carry me any further. I help you find something in this list to inspire you too. 

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

The Lord of the Rings is simply my favourite fiction book of all time. I love it, I have read it several times and seen the movies, played the games; you name it – I am most definitely a fan! The scale and complexity of the book is of course epic but there is a simple premise at the core, and that is of two friends on a very long walk. The key relationship of lord of the rings is Frodo and Sam, the two hobbits, on their quest to destroy the ring of power. It is a story of universal themes: overcoming adversity and good over evil. It is about ordinary folk doing extraordinary things and a tale of personal discovery and enduring friendship.

I recently read the book again on my kindle while walking the Tour de Mont Blanc and my kids loved my reciting of the story as we walked along. This book, more than any other, taught me that every walk is an adventure; even if you are not going all the way to Mount Doom. 

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R. Tolkein

Mind over matter by Ranulph Fiennes

Mind Over Matter was the first real life account of an epic walk that I ever read, and it deeply affected me.  Ranulph Fiennes’ account of his trek across the Antarctic with Mike Stroud is inspiring, educational and scary in equal measure. This book was one of the key reasons for pursuing my Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society and I had the honour to meet Sir Ranulph in person before some of my own expeditions to Svalbard and Greenland. His book prompted me to seek out new paths in the polar wildernesses. One very practical tip I took from this book was the idea of the ‘polar plod’; setting a walking pace that you can maintain all day every day on long expeditions. Setting a new record for the longest unsupported expedition polar journey (1350 miles), this is a story of real endurance.

“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” – Ranulph Fiennes

The Old Ways –  A journey on foot by Robert Macfarlane

If you are a writer and then you will really appreciate the poetic musings of Robert Macfarlane. Quite frankly I get jealous reading his books as I wish I could write as well as him. All his published work is great but The Old Ways is a real love song to walking. Macfarlane seamlessly mixes history, philosophy and detailed observations of the natural world with his own musings. It is a magically evocation of some of the oldest paths and their connection to our present and future. 

“The compact between writing and walking is almost as old as literature — a walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.” – Robert Macfarlane

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is very readable and his books are laugh out loud funny. His self depreciating observational humour is nowhere better showcased than in A Walk in the Woods, his account of walking (a large part of) the Appalachian trial. The book has also been made into a film starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. This is fun but if you just see the film you miss a lot. As well as being funny Bryson brilliant captures culture, personalities and the environment so under the waves of humour there are depths of incisive observation. Bryson would be the first to confess he is not your typical athlete so his walking accomplishments are an encouragement to all of us. Reading this made me add the Appalachian trail to my todo list.

“Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.” ― Bill Bryson

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

I picked this book up by chance. I was between books, on holiday and wanted something to read. On first inspection I was not expecting to like the book but after the first chapter I was hooked. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is about a simple task – walking round the corner to post a letter – that turns into an odyssey. His walk takes us on a journey through love and loss, regret and forgiveness, desire and hope. The characters and relatable and the story intriguing and plausible and thus you are drawn in to Harold’s quest. 

“The least planned part of the journey, however, was the journey itself.” ― Rachel Joyce

In Praise of Walking by Shane O’Mara

Shane O’Mara has written the best book that I know of that encapsulates the science of walking. In Praise of Walking details the evolutionary, physiological, psychological and environmental importance of walking. O’Mara outlines the strong evidence for the beneficial effects of walking on physical and mental health. One of the most important recommendations of the book are his principles for town planning summarised in the acronym EASE. That “cities should be easy (to walk); accessible (to all); safe (for everyone), and enjoyable (for all). But the book is not just a dry thesis. O’Mara has a true passion for walking and he punctuates the evidence with anecdotes and stories that make the book enjoyable as well as educational.

“Although walking arises from our deep, evolutionary past, it is our future too: for walking will do you all the good that you now know it does.” ― Shane O’Mara

Mountaincraft and Leadership Eric Langmuir 

This book was the set text for those wanting to be qualified Mountain Leaders in the UK. Even if you do not aspire to getting a qualification, Mountaincraft and Leadership, or its successor, Hillwalking by Steve Long are manuals that covers all the key skills you will need as you start to make your walks more adventurous. Navigation, first aid, weather, camp craft and team leadership are among the subjects he covers. I still use the equipment lists in the book as a useful reference and prompt when planning for a trip. Another similar manual I would recommend is the US equivalent, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, but this gets into more technical climbing techniques so goes beyond the needs of most walkers. 

“A decision without the pressure of consequence is hardly a decision at all.” Eric Langmuir.

Cicerone guides (by various authors)

Cicerone publishes a wide range of excellent guides and these books are often the starting place for my long distance walks and expeditions. The guides are amazingly helpful with route planning, navigation (they generally contain good maps), and logistical details such as potential accommodation and camping sites. I have recently walked the Tour De Mont Blanc (TMB guide by Kev Reynolds) and South West Coastal Path (Minehead to South Haven Point guide by Paddy Dillon) and both books were excellent. The Camino de Santiago guide is also on my shelf, as that is the next big (COVID-19 delayed) trip I am planning. I would recommend these to any one thinking of a multi-day walking, trekking or hiking holiday.

“On blue-sky days it (Mont Blanc) dazzles in the sunshine or floats on a raft of cloud, commanding one’s attention with it’s dominating height, for it has regal presence equal both to its appearance and stature.” Kev Reynolds

Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book

If you want to go for a walk, one of the best things you can do is just look at a map and piece together your own route. When I go to a new place one of the first things I want to do is look at a map and get out for a walk. There is nothing better than walking for really getting to know a new area, be it a bustling city or an empty wilderness. A detailed map, such as those produced by ordinance survey, are ideal for planning a walk but to get the most out of them you need to learn to read them properly so that the two-dimensional symbols and lines can be interpreted and allow you to picture the ground in your mind.

If you want a fun way to improve your map reading skills then check out the Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book. It will really help you focus in on the detail and appreciate the insight that a map can provide. The original was so popular there is now more, such as the Puzzle Tour of Britain.

“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.” – Reif Larsen

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