Chris Saunders, Stephen Graham, SF 69

Walking for the Sun and the Wind

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I think we can all agree on the restorative qualities of a country walk. Certainly, since I moved to Sussex, I have come to value walking as much more than a basic mode of transport, surrounded as I am by the tranquillity of fields, footpaths and woods. I only wish I could convince my daughter of the splendours on our doorstep.

In my search for something to inspire my beloved refusenik I landed upon a little book by Stephen Graham called The Gentle Art of Tramping (1926), which has recently been reprinted in a handsome little hardback edition by Bloomsbury. My eyes have been opened to a far more profound approach to perambulation than I ever expected. Tramping, in this case, is approximately a cross between rambling and hiking, more serious than the one and less intense than the other, with an emphasis on living off the land, sleeping outdoors and ignoring wristwatches.

It is written by a real master of the art. Stephen Graham (1884–1975) was an adventurer and journalist best known for his accounts of his treks on foot in Russia. Books such as A Vagabond in the Caucasus and With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem told not only of his huge feats of pedestrianism but also his enduring sympathy for working people. When he enlisted in the Scots Guards during the Great War, he eschewed a commission in order to enter the ranks as a private. He wrote movingly of the life of the recruit in A Private in the Guards, a critique of the army’s method of building a soldier by breaking the man. In The Gentle Art of Tramping he transfers his vagrant skills and subversive instincts to a more intimate British setting because, as he very wisely says, ‘There are thrills unspeakable in Rutland, more perhaps than on the road to Khiva. Quality makes good tramping, not quantity.’

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About the contributor

Chris Saunders is the managing director of Henry Sotheran Ltd, Britain’s oldest antiquarian bookseller. He is also a writer on bookish matters and runs the literary blog Speaks Volumes. He shares his house in East Sussex with his wife, daughter and hundreds of books, some of which he’s read.

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