Sunday, 27 December 2009

Book review - Taking a Line for a Walk: 1100 Miles on Foot, Le Havre to Rome

Title: Taking a Line for a Walk: 1100 Miles on Foot, Le Havre to Rome by Christopher Lambert
Synopsis: In the summer of 2000, Christopher Lambert drew a straight blue line between Le Havre and Rome on a map of Europe when eighteen months short of his 70th birthday. He then set off with his all leather Brasher walking boots, a small rucksack, a couple of pens, some watercolour pencils and a sketchbook journal. 1,075 miles and 71 walking days later he arrived in Rome having taken a page each day to sketch and write about what he saw on his trip.

This is the hardback facsimile version of his sketchbook. As a concession to his handwriting, there is a thin typescript margin containing two lines of summary text about each day - as he says his writing gets a bit cramped at times!

Summary review:  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED This book is a joy for all those who sketch on their travels.  It's both an inspiration to improve one's own sketches and a gentle reminder of how to slow down and reflect on life and the pleasures of our surroundings and all we encounter on our travels.  If you find his writing a bit small I recommend a magnifier as the book is a facsimile which is the only way to experience 'as if' looking at the original book.

  • daily sketches while travelling in a loose and unfussy style
  • over 240 illustrations of a huge variety of 'views', buildings, people, flowers and insects
  • one of the very best travel journals I have ever seen - sets a standard to aspire to!
  • a particulour joy for all those - like me - using pen and ink and coloured pencils
Think Again?
  • those with sight impairment might find the handwritten text a bit of a struggle - but you can still enjoy all his sketches and you can certainly read the text easily with the use of a magnifier
    Who should buy this?:
    • people who need to slow down and learn to appreciate the places they visit
    • avid sketchers
    • people planning a journey and interested in keeping a travel journal
    • artists using pen and ink and/or watercolour pencils who want to try sketching their travels
    Who should not buy this?
    • people who don't like sketches
    • people who don't like travel journals
    • anybody who likes travelling at top speed!
    Author / (Publisher) Chris Lambert / The Antique Collectors Club (15 Sep 2004) 
    Technical data: Current Publication Date: July 7, 2006  It would appear that the book may have been reprinted in 2006 and that the original publishers are no longer involved.  The link at the top is to the 2006 book.  The link at the end is to the 2004 version.
    Hardcover (with dust jacket) - 144 pages; ISBN-10: 1851494707 | ISBN-13: 978-1851494705

    Paul Klee once explained that "a drawing is simply a line going for a walk".

    Christopher Lambert, the creator of this facsimile sketchbook, developed a taste for long distance walking when, on his retirement, he walked 440 miles along five ancient footpaths across southern Britain to his new retirement home in Devon.

    For the Millennium he thought he'd like to try one of the pilgrim routes across Europe. Consequently, in July 2000 he set off carrying a pilgrim's passport - a letter of brotherly greetings in Latin from the Anglican Provost of Portsmouth Cathedral to Pope John Paul in the Vatican in Rome.

    On his trip he averaged just over 15 miles each walking day overall, although this inevitably varied along the route across France, through Switzerland, down through northern Italy and the 'thigh' of Italy to Rome. En route - and along his straight line - he visited Honfleur, Fontainebleau Forest, the Canal de Bourgogne, Dijon, Lausanne and from there along the ancient pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, through the Grand St. Bernard pass across the Alps to Aosta, Lucca and Siena before reaching Rome.

    What particularly appealed to me about this book is his habit of doing daily sketches while travelling - a habit I developed on my two trips to the USA. I also identified with his approach to sketching. He uses pen and ink to sketch, followed by coloured pencils to indicate values and form and something of local hues. The book contains over 240 illustrations of a huge variety of 'views', buildings, people, flowers, insects and the butterfly which sat on his hand one day while he drew (see below - page 52 Col du Grand St Bernard)

    Pages 85 and 85 Lucca
    "Taking a Line for a Walk"
    copyright Christopher Lambert - used with permission

    The author is a former architect and it's evident that his working life enables him to take him scenes involving buildings with an ease which others can only aspire to.  His eye takes in and quickly absorbs the key features of complicated architecture. I loved the way he tells himself off when he's done something overly complicated - giving himself injunctions to simplify. Overall, despite what he says below, his style is very pleasing - being loose and unfussy. Some of the very simplest sketches have the greatest impact.
    "The sketches had priority - to the extent that I would often make myself late departing from a place because I just had to record it....I wanted to shake off my architectural topographical style and in a few flicks of the pen and pencils capture the essence of a thing or place, but it very rarely happened. Nevertheless these small drawings became my footsteps as the miles elapsed and the pages filled...."

    His habit of sketching over meals is also one with which I'm very familiar. I even suspect, given the nature of his sketches, that we might share the same habit of table hopping to find the table which offers the 'right' view. Which is not always the best view but rather is the one which lends itself best to sketching.

    His meditations on walking, his surroundings and the impact that a long walk has on an individual are both interesting and powerful reminders to reflect on life at something less than 4 miles an hour. It's a book which more than repays any attempt to read his handwriting - which is not so difficult once you get used to it. This is a book that I can particularly recommend to all those accustomed to travelling to many destinations at top speed and who may not be acquainted with the benefits and "the inevitability of gradualism"! ;)

    In conclusion, I'd highly recommend this book for anybody wanting to keep a sketchbook journal of a trip. Those visiting places along this route will also get an insight into life outside a car and the rhythm of life which occurs when walking everyday on a very long walk.
    "The illustrations have a wonderful vividness and the text has a gentle undercurrent of humour.......It's the kind of book that you can pick up time after time and feel yourself wandering through the byways of France and Italy, hearing the sounds and smelling the fragrance of the hedgerows and fields around and about, or imagining yourself sitting outside in a village square enjoying a glass of wine" Sir Chris Bonington
    Note:  This review was first published in my sketchbook blog  Taking a line for a walk - from Le Havre to Rome (Wednesday, March 21, 2007) and is published again here with a new front end to provide a complete record of my book reviews on this blog



    Robyn said...

    I already have this book on your earlier recommendation. I love it and it is extremely liberating in that is is so effective without the sketches being 'perfect'.

    Felicity said...

    Mine is winging it's way after I read the review! Sometimes travel books with perfect illustrations can be off-putting but this makes it look possible for anyone to do. James Gurney's book arrived today and looks absolutely amazing, so full of information - again on your recommendation!

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