“The wanderlust is perhaps the most precious of all the troublesome appetites of the soul of man. It makes him keep in his cupboard a friendly old suit of comfortable wear that has paled under the fervent eye of the sun, and been matured by dust and mud and rain, and with that, a pair of honest boots nailed like the oak door of an ancient keep which of themselves direct one’s way o’er moor and fell and bog and bypath away from the offence and clamour of cars and trains; it saves his soul from being lost in the vain attempt to keep itself alive by indulging in the vices of the smart or the flashy inanities of those to whom the jewels of life are paste or glass; it keeps his windows open to the winds of heaven and his heart to the song of birds. What better service can be done either to the body or the soul of man?”

This passage is taken from the introduction to “Wanderings & Excursions” by James Ramsay MacDonald, published in 1925 when he was Prime Minister. He was also a keen hill-walker. I came across this book recently in our excellent local second-hand book shop. On the whole, it’s clear why his fame rests on his political career. But I have enjoyed some parts of what I’ve read. I’ve been thinking of posting this quotation for a while and was finally prompted to get round to it by Solitary Walkers post about wanderlust.


9 thoughts on “Wanderlust

  1. Well, I like that quote from Ramsay MacDonald’s book very much. I think you knew I would! I must say, I’d never heard of ‘Wanderings & Excursions’. Another book to look out for.

    I have a bit of a crazy thing about neglected authors who have written very individual books about travel and natural history and landscape: Hilaire Belloc, Baring-Gould, George Borrow for example. To name but three. Second-hand bookshops are definitely the place to come across this sort of unfashionable thing.

    One does tire of the commercialism, the cynical writing-for-a-market, of many of our present-day laugh-a-minute so-called ‘travel’ writers. I call it the Bill Bryson syndrome.

    But of course there are some very great writers out there who restore one’s faith in literary style and depth of culture: Jan Morris, Leigh Fermor, Barry Lopez for example.

    I suppose it’s all a matter of personal taste.

  2. It’s certainly a great quote Mark.. I laughed when you mentionedBook Shop.. my front roof looks like a book shop right now… I got a phone call asking me to call at a friends house… their elderly neighbours book collection was up for grabs.. would I mind taking them away. Well how could I refuse… most were fiction.. book club books and condensed Readers Digest… but there were some gems, Two sets of Encyclopedia, A set of Gardening Encyclopedia in 3 large books. Books on Wales, Scotland, lots on the countryside and birds, mammals, fish, a large amount of gardening books, and some very good old Joinary and Carpentry Books. I have now to find room for all of them.
    I love my books, I know having the internet is like having your own library, but sitting in my favourite chair with a book just can not be beat.


  3. beatingthebounds says:

    Coming across an unexpected gem in a second-hand bookshop, a jumble sale, or an ‘inherited’ collection of books is unbeatable. It’s like a walk on a dreary day with an unpromising forecast which is transformed by a break in the clouds or a rainbow or a passing flock of geese.
    I know Lopez, Borrow and Fermor and I’ve read bits of Belloc, but you’ve given me some other names to look out for.
    I’m a sucker for walking related oddities, especially something that looks old and obscure and neglected. Some examples “Quaint Talks about Quaint Walks” by a very well traveled Yorkshire vicar; a book about a long walk in the South of England written by a young woman from New Zealand, that turned out to be mostly a series of religious meditations. Some favourite finds: “Mean Feat” about a walk starting in Southern Portugal and finishing in Southern Italy (see the Big Walk in my Blogroll for a similarly monumental journey) and “Shanks’ Pony” Morris Marples history of walking.

  4. I discovered by chance “Mean Feat” many years ago in my late 20s in a public libray and read it there over several lunchtimes. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve been dreaming about long-distance walking ever since reading it.

  5. beatingthebounds says:

    Do you know “Clear Waters Rising” by Nicholas Crane about his walk from Cape Finistere to Istanbul?

  6. beatingthebounds says:

    I like John Hillaby’s books and in ‘Journey Through Europe’ he often quotes Belloc or refers to where their paths cross. Didn’t Belloc ‘cheat’ and catch trains?

  7. Not sure – you may be right. Belloc was such a huge personality. I retain this image of him striding across the Alps in a snowstorm, in the completely unsuitable heavy walking clothes they wore then, hammering on the door of some inn and demanding food and lodging. Another interesting little collection by him I inherited from my mother is “Hills and the Sea”. I’ve dipped into it just now for the first time in years and see there’s a chapter on the Margeride area of France – which I crossed on my pilgrim journey – and also on Canigou, one of my favourite mountains in the Pyrenees.

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