I’m not a great reader of non-fiction and have sometimes stumbled when setting out to read the supposed greats of nature writing. However I found Doubling Back to be both a compelling page-turner and an eye-opener to the mysteries and memories that can be unearthed by exploring on foot.
Linda Cracknell has taken 10 journeys, mostly multi-day backpacks, and used them as the basis for involving descriptions of the landscape – linking history and culture perfectly with the day to day experience of walking, climbing and horse-riding, alone or with friends, and her encounters with strangers. There was something about the writing that made it instantly clear that Linda has walked these routes in much the same way as the everyday walker in all of us would tackle them, but she has the skill to bring them alive so you can picture the journey as you read; it becomes a pleasure to digest the nuggets of social history or personal memories that are cast along the route.
Whilst not an account of macho challenges, the book includes expeditions from Alpine mountain huts and anyone familiar with Scottish walking will recognise the squelchy-boot descriptions of wet glens, river crossings and nights in bothies. A poignant book in places, the emotion is never served up overtly but is gathered from the context, for example a moving encounter with an elderly lady, now crippled up with arthritis, who urges Linda to keep going – taking place in a rain-lashed cafe on Skye.
Although there’s an undercurrent of sadness to some of the stories and memories evoked by the walks, overall the book is extremely positive and would be a tonic when foul weather really does stop play. Linda Cracknell is based in Aberfeldy in Perthshire and her love and in-depth knowledge of the Scottish landscape shines through in her writing.
The book has a few nods to other nature and walking writers which may inspire sometimes-reluctant readers like myself to venture further into other literature. It is clear that Linda is very well read but this signposting is done, in my opinion, with a lighter touch than Robert MacFarlane and, when intermingled with encounters with ordinary walkers, this helps make the book very accessible. Although I read it quickly because each story is compelling, it is a book that will be re-read at leisure as it contains some beautiful passages and lyrical turns of phrases such as this on a wet and windy approach to Glenelg, “High winds were already whipping up a frenzy of waves and rocking caravans on a south-facing beach campsite. A turned-out tent showed me its pale yellow guts. I put on more clothes and quickened my step”.
The book traces ten paths taken during journeys in Norway, Cornwall, Spain, Kenya, Switzerland and five in Scotland, including the drove route between Perthshire and the Isle of Skye. The inspiration was a recreation of a journey taken by Linda’s father through the Swiss Alps in 1952, discovering as she walked in his footsteps more about the man she barely knew. As each story stands alone, it’s a great book to dipping in and out of. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with a love of walking and nature.
Link to buy Doubling Back.