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