At first, it seems Somerville’s book is an ordinary walking guide. With 12 walks (one for each month of the year) it revels in landscapes and wildlife. However, with a cast of otherworldly characters, it becomes clear this book is truly about people. There are the Hoyles farmers, who with the latest glittering tech and machines, try to harvest the same amount that their fathers could without. There’s Deryck, possibly the last person to fish for salmon in the Severn estuary with an old-fashioned putcher basket. There’s Slipper, a lone figure digging in the Norfolk mudflats. For every character Somerville describes, there’s a Dickensian level of detail that could only have been gathered in person. It’s enchanting to know that there are people in Britain that might reply ‘I’m just finishing this fag, and then I’m going to dig for some old lugworms,’ if asked nicely enough.
As well as these 12 routes, there is a longer hike going on in the background. Snippets come through of the author’s relationship with his father. As a child, Somerville’s father is barely on the horizon. He’s faraway and mysterious, the kind of parent who when asked, replies ‘I work in an office’.
Come the August walk, Somerville arrives at an honest, adult friendship with his parent, who finally divulges his job (appropriately, over a pint during a walk). When Somerville describes the full nature of his father’s job and role in World War II, his writing becomes uncharacteristically straight and sombre, without embellishment. A powerful moment in a thoughtful book.