Long-distance walker Chris Townsend’s latest travelogue seems politically timely. Along the Divide is his account of walking Scotland’s Watershed in the time between two referendums, Scottish Independence in 2014 and EU membership in 2016. Opening with the line: “A watershed, a divide, between two worlds”, Townsend introduces us to the main themes of his book – the physical Watershed (“a line that links continuous high ground…the ridge between two valleys”) and the political divide of a nation. The Watershed of Scotland runs between the Atlantic and the North Sea, covering 1,200km through the Southern Uplands, Central Lowlands, Highlands and the Flow Country – helpfully a printed map is provided allowing readers to get their bearings! A selection of stunning photographs of the sights and views Townsend encountered also feature in the centre of the book, and they are an absolute treat.
Along the Divide is an inspiring read for those who like the outdoors, or just like the idea of the outdoors, however, it is essentially a step-by-step description of Townsend’s walk. He is not a brilliant writer, that is not his profession after all, but as always, his passion for the outdoors comes across, and makes this short read extremely enjoyable. Messages of conservation feature heavily, as do arguments in support of Scotland’s access legislation, which gives walkers the right to roam, and to camp where they choose. Townsend also writes passionately about the need for the return of trees, where deforestation has occurred, for we live in a changing world, and nature is often a victim in our strive for urbanisation. On the theme of changing times, Townsend comments on the use of his Kindle: “I view e-readers as one of the greatest developments for long-distance walking in recent years.” He enjoys the freedom of reading in the rain, and bringing his whole library in his rucksack, and although there can be a loneliness to such walking expeditions, Townsend highlights the importance of engaging in conversation with those you meet en route.
The practicalities of undertaking such a feat are covered, for example the pattern of collecting maps and supplies from post offices, ensuring carrying right amount of food, and eating the right things. He suffered a few days of illness during the trek, which is as uncomfortable to read as it no doubt was to experience.
Townsend also frequently reflects on feelings of home, having been born and brought up in England, then moving to Scotland as a young adult after falling in love with the landscape whilst long-distance walking. He concludes: “On the Watershed walk I did. I identified with the land, the people, the country, and knew that would never leave me.” Ending on the final line in the journal he kept whilst on his travels, Townsend reflects: “I now have a picture of the Watershed in my mind”, and why else do it, than to see the beauty our country has to offer? It has definitely inspired me.
Along The Divide by Chris Townsend is out now via Sandstone Press.