Last year I read and really enjoyed Simon Armitage’s book about walking home along the Pennine Way (called just that – ‘Walking Home’). I’ve walked to my Dad’s house (across the moors) twice and it felt like a ‘significant’ type of hike.
And more recently I spent three days walking the Ridgeway Path in my childhood territory , a modest, fairly flat route but again it struck a personal chord. So the premise of Rob Lilwall’s book Walking Home From Mongolia resonated when Rob contacted me by email. He asked me if I would like a publisher’s draft / proof of the book to read and review and a quick detour online to read his website showed a real challenge for the two guys involved: 5000 km (about 3100 miles) over 6 months, starting in the Gobi desert in Mongolia, in winter. Yes, I’d love to read the book I said.
A couple of days later I was avidly reading it on the train – I’m spending some time commuting to Manchester just now – and any other opportunity I had. It was riveting reading, walking into the unknown has always been an appealing theme. My favourite book as a boy was Lord of The Rings, less the recounting of the battles and more the trek, the quest.
So the tales of hardship, harsh environments, strange places and strangers with limited cultural touch-points recounted in the book were fascinating. But Walking Home from Mongolia has more to it than that. It also pulls in a lot of Chinese history, ancient and modern and does it in a really interesting way. And it’s a buddy / road story too – Rob is really honest about the dynamics between himself and his trip companion (and cameraman) Leon. The have the ups and downs I’d imagine anyone thrown together for a long-term and in difficult circumstances would have. Despite the grumps and moods they both come across as decent guys and I was rooting for them to make it to the end with a friendship intact. And part of the appeal of the book is Rob’s honest appraisal of his own character and his reaction to circumstances.
I also loved the descriptions of the people they met on the way. As china opens up (as much as it’s going to in my lifetime) more will be filmed or written about the ordinary people across its vast landscapes but I’m guessing this book is one of the few detailing China as it is just now, in a period of huge flux and where the sight of two western, bearded, scruffy hikers can draw open-mouthed attention.
Because I had a publisher’s draft there are pages that say ‘map to go here’ or similar but I’m sure they’ll be a useful addition, as I didn’t really have a good grasp of the geography before reading the book so had to check online a couple of times to get some context. If you buy the book you won’t have to do that of course. And I recommend you have a look at the website, some of the photos on there are great.
And the TV programme – the trials and tribulations of creating the film for it are described nicely in the book – will be good to watch when it arrives in the UK (or on DVD?).
I’ve started vaguely thinking about a challenge or memorable hike for next year to tie in with my 50th year on the planet. I won’t get to Mongolia or China but I can honestly say Rob’s book has inspired me.. time to fire up Google, look at some maps and get the notebook out..
The book comes out on 21st November , you can order it at Amazon or maybe at your local bookstore.