The Farthest Shore by Alex Roddie
Part of my soul thought that any diminution of the wildness here was a shame – that a path would forever tame the raw experience of questing through this landscape. But part of me knew that it was inevitable. No route is pathless forever – and yet perhaps in other aeons there had been paths here before, paths obliterated by the glaciers and softened by the peat. On a long enough timescale all paths are reclaimed by nature. That thought comforted me.
I really enjoyed this a lot. The Farthest Shore is the story of Alex Roddie's trek up the Cape Wrath trail in the middle of winter. In the solitude ensured on the trail, Alex also hopes to escape some of the sources of his anxiety, and hopes the break from social media will help him find clarity and calmness.
It's a really beautiful book, physically as well as in the writing – I love the cover, and the photos inside are stunning, helping to give life and context to some of the story. It’s also an impressive piece of writing; Alex describes the landscape with love and care, capturing the scenes around him vividly.
Any sort of 'solitude' anyone claims to find these days is generally self-imposed and arbitrary rather than inescapable, a paradox made clear as Alex struggles over whether to let a soaking tent end his expedition. In truth, I felt he underplayed the misery of some of these situations a little bit: dealing with endless soaking kit without anywhere warm and dry to retreat to is soul-destroying, and Alex has either carefully glossed some of the true misery of this or is just much more driven and committed than I might have been!
I also really appreciated that Alex doesn't shy away from difficult topics here, and for me it’s the openness and honesty of these discussions that made this book stand out. Alex acknowledges that his own writing has unavoidably contributed to the increase in traffic on this trail (a complexity every outdoors writer has to grapple with at some point, particularly in light of recent pressures on national parks in the UK), and there's a frank discussion of how the outdoors is not a magic cure for anxiety but carries with it its own set of worries which I really appreciated. He also talks about the added difficulties that him being away has caused his own family. These are all complex topics, and it seems easy sometimes for outdoors writers to oversell the value of time spent in these beautiful, deserted places without lingering over the difficulties of their time away. Alex writes with clarity and honesty, and it’s a valuable contribution to the conversation.
Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I'm certainly looking forward to following Alex's travels in the future and seeing what else he produces.
(With thanks to the lovely folk at Vertebrate Publishing for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.)
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Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.