This is my most recent read. I really enjoy reading travel books, but I was particularly attracted to this one because it involved a walking trip (walking/hiking are major hobbies of mine) and the author is Canadian. His writing style sounded similar to Bill Bryson (my favourite), which only added to the appeal.
I was not disappointed!
The book documents the author's attempt to walk the entire "Ulster Way", which is (at the time he walked it anyway) the longest waymarked trail in the British Isles - 560 miles!
This book is very funny - Will Ferguson has a dry, sarcastic wit that I found really entertaining. On the other hand, many of his passages are quite poignant and emotional. His descriptions of the landscape are lovely:
"This sloppy trail skirted the edges of several small ponds among the trees, with cattails standing in their own reflections. In one pond, the sudden leap of a fish breaking the surface sent long, slow ripples circling outward; a perfect haiku moment."
He writes a lot about the civil unrest that has existed in Northern Ireland for decades, and how he experienced this first-hand as a visitor. He writes about countless clashes between Protestants and Catholics and the culture that has sprung up around this rivalry. I had no idea the issues were that complex so it certainly provided insight into the country and its people.
There is an underlying storyline regarding his grandfather, who emigrated from Belfast to North America as a young boy and was an orphan. Ferguson spends part of his trip tracking various branches of his family tree to try to unlock the mystery of where exactly his grandfather (and therefore, he) came from. I actually wish this personal part of the story was discussed more indepthly, but what was discussed added a nice dimension to the book and made it about more than a physical walk on a tangible trail.
This would be a really cool trip to do sometime! According to my research, the trail has changed a lot since Ferguson hiked it in early 2000 - the website calls it the "new" ulster way and sets the total length as 625 miles, split into "quality" sections and "link" sections for more manageable walking. I have always been a walker, but have gotten more into it since I started dating the boy because we both really like to hike together. That combined with the fact that I have always wanted to visit Ireland, and most likely have some family heritage there myself, means that I have added this trip to my list of "to-do's".
Who knows - maybe this time next year, I will be able to say I followed in my new favourite authors footsteps.
"May the winds o' the heather be lashin' the Mournes afore the devil shakes yer sausage"