For Somerville this was a kind of pilgrimage, a journey unlike any he had undertaken in 20 years of travel-writing. It was an expedition where he traded the usual comforts and certainties for a real physical and mental challenge, with no mobile phone or other technological aids. The only plan for his journey was to begin in the East at Easter and finish at Whitsun in the extreme West, at the Monastery of the Golden Step, whose gold step, legend says, can only be seen by those who have purged themselves into purity. During his 300-mile walk, he tackled four mountain ranges, high slopes and the numerous gorges of the West. Speaking only basic Greek and trying to follow a poorly way-marked path, he had to rely on his own instincts when climbing mountain passes and crossing high plateaux, farming and shepherding country, where villages are scarce and each night's accommodation was uncertain. He saw a Crete few ever encounter.
Collected notes from avid walker Christopher Somerville’s treks through the British countryside.
In Christopher Somerville’s workroom is a case of shelves that holds four hundred and fifty notebooks. Their pages are creased and stained with mud, blood, flattened insects, beer glass rings, smears of plant juice, and gallons of sweat. Everything Somerville has written about walking the British countryside has had its origin in these little black and red books.
During the lockdowns and enforced isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, Somerville began to revisit this treasury of notes, spanning forty years of exploring on foot. The View from the Hill pulls together the best of his written collections, following the cycle of the seasons from a freezing January on the Severn Estuary to the sight of sunrise on Christmas morning from inside a prehistoric burial mound. In between are hundreds of walks to discover toads in a Cumbrian spring, trout in a Hampshire chalk stream, a lordly red stag at the autumn rut on the Isle of Mull, and three thousand geese at full gabble in the wintry Norfolk sky. Somerville’s writing enables readers to enjoy these magnificent walks without stirring from the comfort of home.