Between the Chalk and the Sea
An old map. A lost pilgrimage route. A journey in search of our walking heritage.
When Henry VIII banned pilgrimage, he ended not only a centuries-old tradition of walking as an act of faith, but a chance to discover the joy of walking as an escape from the burdens of everyday life. Much was lost when these journeys faded from our collective memory, but clues remain. On an antique map in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a faint line between Southampton and Canterbury suggests a significant, though long-forgotten, road. Renamed the Old Way, medieval pilgrims are thought to have travelled this route to reach the shrine of Thomas Becket.
Over four seasons, winding 240 miles between the chalk hills and shifting seascapes of the south coast, Gail Simmons walks the Old Way to rediscover what a journey on foot offers us today. Described as England’s Camino, this long-distance footpath links prehistoric earthworks, abandoned monasteries, Saxon churches, ruined castles and historic seaports. Blending history, anthropology, etymology and geology, Gail reveals the rich natural and cultural heritage found on our own doorstep.
Published on 16th February 2023, by Headline.
Order your copy from Amazon UK. International orders: The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).
“I loved this memoir - centuries of stories captured in the chalk, all told through the prism of one life.”
— Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path
“A stunningly evoked, sensitively drawn journey into a part of England that feels both ancient and entirely new. Such is the subtle power and lightly worn erudition of Gail Simmons' writing.”
— Sophy Roberts, author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia
“As she follows a long-lost pilgrimage route, Gail Simmons finds a whole new way of looking at a familiar landscape. Every footstep is steeped in history, every path is imbued with the traces of all those who came before.”
— Neil Ansell, author
“Few books change the way you see familiar landscapes: this is one of them. A sacred, humble and rewarding journey, like the pilgrimage itself ”
— Ben Rawlence, author of The Treeline
“A brilliantly modern take on one of the oldest of literary genres - the pilgrimage narrative. Gail Simmons walks a long-forgotten trail, and along the way encounters places, people and a myriad of obstacles. This is no ordinary walk, but one with a purpose: to discover the meaning of what it means to be British in these troubled and disjointed times.”
— Stephen Moss, author & naturalist
“An old route for pilgrims is given new and vivid life through Gail Simmons as a solo woman walking. A compelling blend of history and nature writing that is a gift to all of us who love this iconic stretch of chalk cliffs and downland.”
— Tanya Shadrick, author of The Cure for Sleep