A Walk to the Water by Daniel Graham, SilverWood Books, 2015, 302 pages
I like to hike, and I’ve enjoyed Daniel Graham’s WordPress blog, “Scuffed Boots,” so when I learned of his book, A Walk to the Water, I immediately ordered it. I communicate a bit with Graham through our blogs; we’ve exchanged the titles of books we’ve enjoyed, commented on each others walking stories, so I was very optimistic that I’d enjoy his book — I did.
Essentially, this is the story of a looonnnggg walk taken by Graham and his brother, Jake, from their home in Bristol, England (yes, it begins at their front door) to Menton on the French Riviera culminating in a jubilant dip into the Mediterranean Sea. At the end of the book, Graham does the math — 3000 km/1800 miles in six million steps over the course of four months mostly over the Grande Randonnée 5. When the moment comes that they must leave the G5 for a sub-route, the G5-2, Graham writes, “…we felt sad to be leaving the highs and lows of the foot-wide abrasion that had been our home for more than a quarter of a year.”
For the most part, the brothers spend their days and nights on the trail, pitching their tent — Ted — wherever they’re able to find level ground. The brothers endure the expected agonies — blisters, hunger, digestive problems. Throughout the journey, the reader meets friendly, helpful people Graham calls “Trail Angels,” endures slug infested boots, observes the hunting and gathering methods of ants, meets fellow wanderers such as “Tim,” “Spiritual” and “The Friendly Eyed-Scot.” Graham seems to view human beings with the same curious, well-humored perspective he turns to the insects he names.
Graham writes about being “addicted” to walking, something I’m pretty well acquainted with. While there is (no question) a chemical component to that, there is also something elegant and liberating about a trail. It conveys a certainty that normal meandering through daily life doesn’t. As the brothers confront their journey’s final days, Daniel asks his brother if he’s excited about finishing the hike, and Jake responds, “Yes and no. I’m a bit scared.” Graham himself wonders, “How would we survive without the small comforts that we had come to love from the path, and with that the grandeur of the animals and trees, the water and the rocks? It was going to be hard to adjust, and, like Jake, I, too, was scared.”
I enjoyed the book very much. Graham’s writing is clean and clear, in rhythm something like a walk on a trail, each moment deserving attention. He skillfully balances the emotional challenges — missing family and girlfriends, for example — with the wonderment the brothers feel, and share, at their adventure and nature’s small and large revelations. Graham is an observant hiker, and the book is filled with luminous descriptions of “ordinary” things, for example, “…the route dropped into great meadows, where cattle-trodden terraces bloomed with sleepy buttercups, whilst huddles of gossiping mushrooms whispered beneath the shade of their golden caps.”