By Ancient Ways

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When I first came across Over the Hills and Far Away I was immediately enchanted by this magical mixture of a book. Ostensibly it tells of a long-distance ride through the north of England, made to celebrate the author’s recovery from illness; but in fact it is a kind of autobiography, lit up by continual flashes of wit, high spirits and keen observation.

The opening sentences set the tone. ‘I suppose I am happiest of all with the long road in my eye,’ the author writes. ‘I love the thrill of the journey and setting off up unknown tracks with ever the hope of finding heaven knows what over the horizon or around the next bend.’ She reckons she must have ridden 3,000 miles back and forth across England, and finds that her journeys ‘affirm my existence as no other way of life can’.

There is no mystery about the origins of Candida Lycett-Green’s wanderlust and love of horses. Both come from her mother, that formidable traveller and author Penelope Betjeman, who brought up her family at the foot of the Berkshire Downs, and ceaselessly drove her children about in a small trolley-cart pulled by a pony, or led them on rides along the Ridgeway, the prehistoric track that follows the crests of those chalky hills.

Candida inherited an attractive streak of eccentricity, partly from her mother, partly from her father John, the Poet Laureate. Camping out for the first time at Seven Barrows, supposedly a haunted spot, at the age of 8, she and a friend knelt by their beds and under her mother’s direction sang ‘Oh come to my heart, Lord Jesus’ to dispel the ghosts. Needless to say, they ‘didn’t sleep a wink’ that night. In the summer of 1999, in her fifties, she was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer. Her description of how she faced the nightmare, bolstered by the love of her husband Rupert, is most moving. A year later, after an operation and chemotherapy, she bounced back with characteristic resilience and, as a form of ther

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About the contributor

Duff Hart-Davis lives in a seventeenth-century farmhouse on the Cotswold escarpment. Having spent almost all his life in the country he views any visit to the metropolis as a major expedition. His two most recent books are Fauna Britannica and Audubon’s Elephant.

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