Sunday 8 August 2021

Book Review: A second look at Andrew Terrill's The Earth Beneath My Feet

Back in June I posted an initial review of Andrew Terrill’s first book, The Earth Beneath My Feet, and said it had become one of my favourite books even though I wasn’t yet halfway through. Now I’ve finished the book I can confirm that. Indeed, I think this book is superb, a glorious mix of adventure, contemplation, challenge, reflection, and self-analysis.

The book describes a walk from spring to winter from Calabria at the toe of Italy along the Apennine Mountains and through the Alps to Salzburg in Austria. The landscape, the people, and the places are all described wonderfully well. I felt I was there with the author as he fights through mosquito-infested dense forests in the Southern Apennines, deals with heat and thunderstorms, gets lost due to inaccurate maps, and slogs through deep snow in the first storms of winter in the Alps. I also shared his delight and celebrations when the walking was easy and when the landscape overcame him with its glorious wildness. I loved his descriptions of his camps too - he camps most nights and revels in this, naming every camp.

Along the way he has days and nights of beauty and transcendence, passion, and excitement. Again, the author took me with him as he dipped from close to despair and rose to heights of ecstasy, a rollercoaster of emotions engendered by the difficulties and pleasures of long-distance walking and also by self-reflection as the author considers what he is doing and whether it’s justified and why he’s doing it. When the weather or sore feet or tedious road walking depresses his spirits he thinks of the homeless people he hopes the walk will help as he is using it to raise funds for homeless charities.

The writing is direct, descriptive, and subtle. There’s a great deal of depth to the words and many passages repay rereading. This is far more than the account of a long walk.

Whilst Terrill comes across as determined and resourceful – he has to be to overcome some of the difficulties along the way – he’s also modest and self-aware enough to laugh at himself and to know his limitations. There’s no false bravado here. Yet at the same time his strength of will comes through. He never doubts he’ll complete his journey.

Discovering the wild nature that still exists in Europe was one of the author’s aims for the walk and he certainly does. The Italy he describes is far from the famous cities and coastal resorts that usually come to mind. This is an Italy of dense forests, high mountains, wild animals, and few people, an Italy I didn’t know existed. His walk is a wilderness walk.

The book is illustrated with the author’s photographs, all in black and white except on the cover. They show the landscapes, the camps, and, in my favourite ones, the joy of the author.

The walk progresses slowly. Andrew Terrill is not in a hurry. He’s there to relish every minute and draw everything he can from the experience. I read the book slowly too. I think it deserves this. Towards the end I slowed even more. I didn’t want it to finish. In fact, though the book may end it’s actually just a pause as the journey is not even half complete. Next year part two, On Sacred Ground, will tell the story of his continuing walk from the Alps all the way to North Cape at the northern tip of Norway, another 4,000 miles. I’m waiting impatiently!

1 comment:

  1. Based on your review Chris and several others, I now have a copy and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it. I'll take it with me next week when I'm planning an overnight on the Moine Mhor :)