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One Man and a Mule

Hugh Thom­son Preface, £20

Another en­chant­ing book by hugh thom­son, who is fast be­com­ing one of the lead­ing play­ers in the Bri­tish travel-writ­ing scene. he’s a proper ex­plorer to boot, hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced the rigours of life in the An­des and Peru­vian rain­forests in his pur­suit of Inca set­tle­ments. this is a thor­oughly read­able and dis­cur­sive ram­ble through vis­ually stim­u­lat­ing and his­tor­i­cally fas­ci­nat­ing coun­try­side; a wor­thy echo of robert Louis Steven­son’s Trav­els with a Don­key in the Cévennes, but here across Eng­land’s north coun­try with a mule.

there are en­gag­ing de­scrip­tions of en­coun­ters with those he meets along the way, as well as stim­u­lat­ing con­ver­sa­tions with his well-cho­sen spo­radic com­pan­ions, Jasper Winn, him­self a never-fail­ing good read, and the de­light­ful and hos­pitable artist Ja­son Gathorne-hardy.

Mr thom­son’s evo­ca­tion of the agri­cul­tural life of the Lake District and the York­shire Moors, as well as the flora and fauna ob­served along the way, is in­for­ma­tive and rich in ob­ser­va­tion. here he is on the beauty and an­tiq­uity of ‘ferns grow­ing out of dry-stone walls; hart’s tongue ferns; big glau­cousleaved ferns, black and green, some ex­otic, some fa­mil­iar… Young di­nosaur hatch­lings would have nes­tled un­der ferns back in the day’.

We walk with the Lake po­ets, Wordsworth and Co­leridge, them­selves great sup­port­ers of ‘the old mule­teer tracks with their prim­i­tive sim­plic­i­ties’. Much of the travel is in­formed by the leg­endary Al­fred Wain­wright, who first re­vealed the joys of walk­ing through the North and en­cour­aged oth­ers to fol­low in his foot­steps. And we learn, es­pe­cially from the hardy farm­ers en­coun­tered en route, just how tough life is in the fells and dales, but how the sub­lime nat­u­ral beauty of the hills makes liv­ing there worth­while.

Jethro, the mule, is a wry char­ac­ter through­out and the au­thor’s gen­tle, amus­ing, self-dep­re­ca­tory style raises reg­u­lar smiles. I quite often found my­self laugh­ing out loud, not least at the to­tally un­ex­pected last two ex­tra pages. Do try to re­sist read­ing them un­til you get there. A per­fect book to take on your next hol­i­day. Robin Han­bury-teni­son

‘Jethro, the mule, is a wry char­ac­ter through­out’

The au­thor and Jethro sit and pon­der their next move

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