Many books have been written about walks. Someone goes on a long walk - sometimes a very long walk - and then writes a book about the experience. The genre has a long history. The earliest we've read, though there are probably others written even earlier, was "Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes" by Robert Louis Stevenson and published in 1879. A little more recent was the all-time classic, "A Time of Gifts" by Patrick Leigh Fermor, published in 1977 about a walk across Europe in 1933/4. Go into any bookshop and you will probably find these sitting alongside more modern examples. All this is a rather long-winded way of saying that "Walk This Way" by Gary Sutherland has entered a fairly busy marketplace. Is it worth buying? The short answer is "yes". We give the longer answer below.
Gary Sutherland lives not far from the start of the West Highland Way, but despite that had always viewed cycling or golf as his preferred forms of exercise. As he says: "Walking is basically golf minus the fun. Besides the possibility of dying through sheer boredom, there were other reasons why I never pictured myself joining the ranks of The Walkers. For starters, I hate hills, my fear of heights being a big factor. Secondly, I'm terrified of wildlife (any kind, having once been chased by a cow). And thirdly, the thought of pulling on clumpy walking boots and having to wear actual 'outdoor clothing' appalls me for aesthetic reasons. And therein lies the challenge. Or so I said to myself one morning, while gazing out the living-room window at the distant Campsie Fells, when I got to thinking what an achievement it would be were I to somehow manage to do a long-distance walk."
Not a man to do things by halves, Gary Sutherland decided to do not just one long-distance walk, but three, back-to-back. He would do the West Highland Way and, on arriving at its conclusion in Fort William, immediately embark on the Great Glen Way. And, having arrived in Inverness, he would get a train south to Aviemore and walk the Speyside Way. All in twelve days. Plus a thirteenth, six months later, after he discovered that the map of the Speyside Way he'd used had an old end-point that was half a mile short of the correct modern finishing line.
What makes "Walk This Way" worthy of a place on your bookshelf? Two things. The first is the whimsical quality of the writing. Gary Sutherland isn't quite Jerome K. Jerome of "Three Men in a Boat" fame, but his account of his long walk is written in an engagingly self-deprecating way and with a keen eye for the ridiculous that is thoroughly enjoyable. The second thing that makes this book stand out is the sheer likeability of the author. In the space between the covers of a book recounting a personal adventure, you tend to spend quite a lot of time in the company of its author. That's a great deal easier to do if the author comes over as someone who it would be fun to be around. Gary Sutherland has a friendly and helpful interest in the walkers and others he encounters on his journey and this, combined with an upbeat approach to the world more widely and the humour on every page, simply makes this book a pleasure to read.