5 Books That Will Make Great Christmas Presents

Published 26 November 2014

Reading a book in a field

It’s nearly Christmas, and if you’re like me that means wandering aimlessly through shops trying to work out what on earth to buy someone. And usually failing miserably, and hiding in the pub.

For avid readers, books often go down well, and if the reader is a walker, what better than some books about people doing walks! So I dug into the bookshelves of our house, and picked out five must have books of the genre. And no, they’re not mine.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get reading!

And Did Those Feet: Walking Through 2000 Years of British and Irish History, by Charlie Connelly

First published in 2009, And Did Those Feet is one man’s quest to walk Britain by taking inspiration from great historical journeys – journeys which would have been done on foot. From the travels of the reluctant King Harold on his way to fight the French, to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s flight to Skye disguised as a maid.

It’s a fantastic concept for a book; one of those that you can’t help but wish you’d had myself. Connelly follows the trails as faithfully as it’s possible to do given the actual routes will usually have been lost in time. Wrapped around the tales of B&Bs and tiny villages, are is history and circumstances of each historical journey, all told in wonderfully engaging way by someone who decides all this would be a good idea despite having never done much walking before.

If you’re after a double bill, Connelly’s earlier travel book, Attention All ShippingAttention All Shipping, is also well worth seeking out, being an exploration of the areas of the Shipping Forecast. Although as it’s not about walking, we probably shouldn’t be mentioning it here…

A Walk In The Woods, by Bill Bryson

A master of the travel genre, Bill Bryson has to be one of the best there is. Not for nothing does every new travel writer seem to be labelled as “The New Bill Bryson”, as if anyone could ever steal his crown.

I’ve enthused enthusiastically about his book, A Walk In The Woods, on this site before, but I’ll do so here again in slightly less words. Inspired by the fact that the Appalachian Trail passes near his then home, Bryson decides to tackle the 2,200 mile long hiking trail, spending months wandering around North America’s wilderness.

Bryson’s tale is captivating, and despite the fact that he tells the tale of the trail warts and all, every time I read it I get filled with this desire to head out to the States and spend six months doing it myself. It will probably never happen, still you’ve got to dream.

Pennine Way Walkies, by Mark Wallington

After many years in London, Mark Wallington headed north to live in Edale. And as any walker knows, Edale’s the start of the Pennine Way. Well, how can you live near the Pennine Way and not be inspired to go for a walk on it? Okay, I’m sure many people resist the lure, however Wallington couldn’t, although he did it under the guise of getting his middle aged dog, Boogie, some exercise.

Yes, Pennine Way Walkies is a one man and his dog tale along the Pennine Way, and perhaps one of the most hysterically funny books ever written about the trail. Or any trail for that matter. Although the fact he manages to do the entire walk without really getting wet, does make me wonder if he really did walk the thing.

Also well worth checking out is Travels with Boogie, a compendium of two of Wallington’s earlier books – 5000 Mile Walkies, where he walks the South West Coast Path with his dog, Boogie (although it’s actually a different Boogie), and Boogie Up the River where he journeys to the source of the Thames. Although he does that in a camping skiff, so best forget that…

Walking Home, by Simon Armitage

Poet Simon Armitage lives near the Pennine Way, and inspired by seeing it there, goes out for a walk. Hmm, you may be sensing a theme here. Clearly the only true way to walk a trail is to look out of your window and walk whatever is there. Although I think I’d struggle to make a day long hike along the 14 mile Wandle Trail, into a book.

In fact there’s clearly something about the Pennine Way that attracts writers, which is ironic given there don’t seem to be that many through hikers doing the whole thing. At least, not many we saw.

In Walking Home, Armitage decides to walk it north to south, and to do it as a modern day troubadour, living off the takings from the hat passed around at his nightly poetry recitals and staying in accommodation donated to him by well-wishers. A fantastic notion, although perhaps one that’s arguably much easier to organise when you have an established fanbase who engage with you via your website.

Such was the success of the journey though, that he went off to try it again, walking along the South West Coast Path from Minehead to Land’s End. The book on that journey, Walking Away, is released in 2015.

The Inn at the Top: Tales of Life at the Highest Pub In Britain, by Neil Hanson

The Inn at the Top isn’t really about walking but it’s got a walking connection. Neil Hanson’s brilliant book tells the story of the Tan Hill Inn, which he ran with his wife for a year in the 1970s. The Tan Hill Inn is one of the most iconic pubs in Britain, sitting isolated on wild moorland, miles from the nearest village or town. It’s a fantastic pub to arrive to at the end of a hard day of Pennine Way walking and one that’s incredibly hard to leave once you’ve had a few pints of their well-kept ales!

The Inn at the Top tells the story of the duo’s time at the pub, as well as a social history of the Dales and the pub itself. Regularly hilarious, gloriously insightful and enough to make you run a mile if anyone suggests that you should go and work there. Hanson’s tales of being snowed in during the Winter of Discontent will also make you put off any fanciful notions about running a rural pub being a cosy, peaceful job.

So that’s my top 5, any of which would make a fine present. Unless you’re buying for me because I obviously have them all already.

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