Sunday book review – Across a Waking Land by Roger Morgan-Grenville

This is the tale of an almost 1000-mile walk from the southern edge of the New Forest to Cape Wrath by a fit 62-year-old who encounters landscapes, people and wildlife on his journey of 51 walking days.  It’s a good read and I enjoyed it very much.

Quite honestly, the interactions with people, fellow walkers, gamekeepers, cafe owners, taxi drivers and quite a few fellow wildlife enthusiasts were the best bits for me. And of those, the unplanned encounters with strangers were the very best. People are interesting.

There are plenty of wildlife encounters and they stimulate the walking author’s thoughts about various issues in land management and nature conservation. There are many interesting snippets here, and some catchy facts.

The walk was interrupted early on by catching covid and the author had to skip a section of the journey but he returned to it and did those stretches after reaching Cape Wrath. This indicates, as did his words through the book, that Morgan-Grenville is a man of principle and keeps his promises. He turned down several offers of lifts and travelled every yard by foot. The whole journey was carried out to raise funds for Curlew Action (and as an ageing man’s adventure) and we hear bits and pieces about Curlews as he travels. I expected rather more on Curlews actually, and would have liked more – they could have been a bit more of a leitmotif through these pages (although the westerly route from the Scottish central belt to the north coast would have meant they were rather thin on the ground for those last weeks).

If you know me at all you will know that I am rarely late for anything (which means I have wasted days of my life waiting for other people who don’t have the same view of punctuality) and I was keen to set out on this journey with the author, but he rather messed around in the first part of the book, I thought, and kept me waiting until page 47 before properly setting off.  I was metaphorically pacing the pages for a while. Near the end of the book, there are six pages about a very fine local campaign (which I support) on a site way off the author’s route. This felt like a worthy but unnecessary diversion. There are other sections towards the end of the book which could have had a bit of a trim too, I thought. But I mention this because I wanted more of the journey and the encounters with people, species and habitats.

And I wanted more of the vignettes that made this book sparkle – because it most certainly did.  Vignettes like gifted grapefruit, cafes not serving coffee, a belligerent taxi driver, Doris, an offer to carry his rucksack to the top of the hill, comments on how people of a certain age feel about good health, the fault of not being Robert Macfarlane etc etc.

I liked the author very much after accompanying him vicariously on his journey. He’s a wildlife enthusiast and I felt he shared some of my irritations with the present day. I say again, this book is a good read and I enjoyed it very much.

The cover? Not bad as it conjures up the idea of a journey which must be in spring because of the daffs, Swallow and oak leaves. I’d give it 8/10.

Across a waking land: a 1000 mile walk through a British spring by Roger Morgan-Grenville is published by Icon books.




My forthcoming book, Reflections, will be published on 4 July.

Details – click here and read what others think about it.


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