The January Man by Christopher Somerville
In January 2006, a month or two after my father died, I thought I saw him again – a momentary impression of an old man, a little stooped, setting off for a walk in his characteristic fawn corduroys and shabby quilted jacket. After teenage rifts it was walking that brought us closer as father and son; and this ‘ghost’ of Dad has been walking at my elbow since his death, as I have ruminated on his great love of walking, his prodigious need to do it – and how and why I walk myself.
The January Man is the story of a year of walks that was inspired by a song, Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’. Month by month, season by season and region by region, Christopher Somerville walks the British Isles, following routes that continually bring his father to mind. As he travels the country – from the winter floodlands of the River Severn to the lambing pastures of Nidderdale, the towering seabird cliffs on the Shetland Isle of Foula in June and the ancient oaks of Sherwood Forest in autumn – he describes the history, wildlife, landscapes and people he encounters, down back lanes and old paths, in rain and fair weather.
This exquisitely written account of the British countryside not only inspires us to don our boots and explore the 140,000 miles of footpaths across the British Isles, but also illustrates how, on long-distance walks, we can come to an understanding of ourselves and our fellow walkers. Over the hills and along the byways, Christopher Somerville examines what moulded the men of his father’s generation – so reticent about their wartime experiences, so self-effacing, upright and dutiful – as he searches for ‘the man inside the man’ that his own father really was.
About the author
Christopher Somerville is the walking correspondent of The Times. He is one of Britain’s most respected and prolific travel writers, with thirty-six books, hundreds of newspaper articles and many TV and radio appearances to his name. He lives in Bristol.