This is a book about ten women who, over the past three hundred years, have found walking essential to their sense of themselves, as people and as writers.
In a series of intimate, incisive portraits, Wanderers traces their footsteps, from eighteenth-century parson’s daughter Elizabeth Carter ‐ who desired nothing more than to be taken for a vagabond in the wilds of southern England ‐ to modern walker-writers such as Nan Shepherd and Cheryl Strayed. For each, walking was integral, whether it was rambling for miles across the Highlands, like Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt, or pacing novels into being, as Virginia Woolf did around Bloomsbury.
Offering a beguiling, alternative view of the history of walking, Wanderers guides us through the different ways of seeing ‐ of being ‐ articulated by these ten pathfinding women.
When I met my future husband, most people predicted it would never last due to our very different interests. He was an active member of a mountain rescue team and spent most weekends walking around the beautiful Scottish Borders where he lived at time. I was happiest curled up by the fire with a book. But gradually I began to accompany him and when we married and moved to Pitlochry, we were surrounded by such beautiful walking country that it would have been criminal not to indulge ourselves and our very energetic retriever cross Samson by hitting the hillsides of Perthshire. Unfortunately, the arrival of children and a move to England dampened our enthusiasm but now, with both of us heading towards retirement, we have once again started to walk (Samson would have loved it but thankfully our Cavapoo can walk for miles-as long as there’s no water which she hates with a passion!!). We seem to do more planning this way-talking about our life together both past, present and future. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I understand why walking is so important to the mental and physical of women and when I heard about Wanderers I knew it was a book I needed to read.
Kerri Andrews has combined her love of English Literature with History and walking to deliver a beautifully written and fascinating book. The women she has chosen to feature within are all very different characters from differing backgrounds and eras but they all have in common a love of walking. They walked for very different reasons but each one was opened up to the reader by the way of letters, diaries or publications related to their hikes, strolls or wandering. There was a variety of settings described and many of them obviously had a personal connection for the author, who is herself a committed walker. The Lake District features heavily but my particular favourites were those set around Scotland and areas I know and love. Many of the women I had heard of but the section I enjoyed the most concerned a woman called Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt as the reasons for her walks around the city of Edinburgh and beyond had a surprising backstory that I found riveting.
I thoroughly enjoyed this slice of literary history. I have to admit to finding it a book I needed to dip into rather than read it in my usual one sitting because I wanted to indulge in each and every journey that these women partook as they were as individual as the women themselves. They walked for pleasure, for escape and for reflection but mostly they walked for themselves and I think we can all learn to do that just a little bit more ourselves.
A compelling idea that’s translated well into this gorgeous book!
Kerri Andrews is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Edge Hill University. She writes about literary history, particularly untold or forgotten histories, and has published widely on women’s writing. Her book, Wanderers: A History of Women Walking, will be published by Reaktion in September 2020. Tracing the footsteps of ten women walker-writers from eighteenth-century parson’s daughter Elizabeth Carter – who desired nothing more than to be taken for a vagabond in the wilds of southern England – to modern walker-writers such as Nan Shepherd and Cheryl Strayed, Wanderers offers a beguiling, alternative view of the history of walking.
Kerri is also one of the leaders of Women In The Hills, an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project aimed at exploring the factors enabling and inhibiting women’s access to upland landscapes. The project brings together people from all areas of walking, mountaineering, land access and management, to drive change in women’s access and experiences.
Kerri is the General Editor of Nan Shepherd’s letters, the first ever edition of Shepherd’s, which will be published in 2023 by Edinburgh University Press. She is also a keen hill-walker and a member of Mountaineering Scotland.