A History of Women Walking
Distributed for Reaktion Books
A History of Women Walking
“A wild portrayal of the passion and spirit of female walkers and the deep sense of ‘knowing’ that they found along the path.”—Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path
“I opened this book and instantly found that I was part of a conversation I didn't want to leave. A dazzling, inspirational history.”—Helen Mort, author of No Map Could Show Them
This is a book about ten women over the past three hundred years who have found walking essential to their sense of themselves, as people and as writers. Wanderers traces their footsteps, from eighteenth-century parson’s daughter Elizabeth Carter—who desired nothing more than to be taken for a vagabond in the wilds of southern England—to modern walker-writers such as Nan Shepherd and Cheryl Strayed. For each, walking was integral, whether it was rambling for miles across the Highlands, like Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt, or pacing novels into being, as Virginia Woolf did around Bloomsbury. Offering a beguiling view of the history of walking, Wanderers guides us through the different ways of seeing—of being—articulated by these ten pathfinding women.
304 pages | 5 x 7 3/4
History: General History
"The reader of Andrews's Wanderers: A History of Women Walking laces her boots and strikes out with ten women who walked, wrote, and wrote about walking. . . . There are some lovely vignettes. . . . The book is at its best when imaginatively recreating the sole-tiring, soul-stirring, stomping simplicity of walking alone. Then the reader shares the rapture of Virginia Woolf's cry: 'Oh the joy of walking!'"
Laura Freeman | The Critic
"Historically, women were consigned to domestic tasks that hemmed them in. For a woman to walk as freely as a man was a radical act and fraught with potential danger. Here Andrews turns a scholarly eye on ten women throughout history, most of whom lived in Great Britain, who walked or, rather, hiked long distances. . . . Andrews interacts with each walker by either tracing similar paths herself or reflecting upon those paths' significance."
"Through the life stories of ten wandering women, Andrews explores 'the previously unacknowledged breadth, depth, and distinctiveness' of their writing, and reveals a rich 'female tradition of walking.' . . . For Linda Cracknell, who lives in the Tayside town of Aberfeldy, both writing and walking are empathetic activities. The paths she walks 'ring with the voices of earlier women-walkers who passed there.' After writing this book, Andrews too finds her paths 'companioned' (to use Nan Shepherd’s word) by other women-wanderers, part of a rich cultural heritage that her fascinating research has revealed."
"In her book Wanderers: A History of Women Walking, Borders-based writer and hillwalker Kerri Andrews profiles women writers for whom walking solo has been an empowering act, pivotal to their creativity and personal freedom. 'The history and literature of walking is all about men, so there’s the sense that it is therefore a male space because women have no role models or history,' said Kerri. 'But there is a long history of women walking. It held great importance for them but they wrote in journals and letters, so their accounts were not as well-known."
"The history of walking has always been women's history, Andrews declares, even if the weight of manmade literature suggests otherwise."
"Literary scholar (and walker) Andrews offers a deft introduction to ten women walker/writers. Her overall point is that women's walking has been overlooked by those (men) who have considered walking a modern cultural activity. . . . Recommended."
"Andrews features a wonderful cast of characters. . . . It still feels somehow radical to talk about women ramblers and flâneuses; the sensitive, well-researched portraits in Wanderers rightly begin to redress the balance."
"This book not only brings to light some women who walked and have been hidden in the shadows, but inspires us to consider our own reasons for walking and what we get from it. Andrews brings her own experiences and connections with the women she introduces in the book into each chapter, and her own love of walking shines through. . . . If I hadn't read this book already, it would be on my wish list this Christmas!"
"In Wanderers, the reader finds him or herself in excellent company. We accompany literary legends such as Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Wordsworth as well as less well known, but equally exceptional, figures such as Ellen Weeton and Sarah Stoddard Hazlitt as they stride out through the landscapes that inspired and sustained them. . . . Although Wanderers does show its readers that there have, historically, been barriers to women’s freedom to walk, its great achievement is to remind us of the prize worth challenging convention and facing those risks, that the freedom to walk is."
“In giving voice to female walker-writers, Wanderers fills out some big blanks in the history of walking, from an eighteenth-century pioneer to walkers of the present day. . . . In Andrews's sensitive portrayals there's a sense of identification with her subjects. This may be as close as you'll get to the inside of Nan Shepherd's head—and that seems like an interesting place to be.”
UKHillwalking.com, "Top Picks of 2020"
"Think of famous walkers and it's men like Wordsworth and Keats who likely spring to mind. But that's only half the story: here Andrews fills in the blanks with a history of women walkers of the last three hundred years, including eighteenth-century roamer Elizabeth Carter, Anaïs Nin, Nan Shepherd, and Cheryl Strayed."
Country Walking Magazine
"Andrews's academic background is balanced by her sociable writing style which gives it a broad appeal. This is a truly pioneering book from an author whose love of her subject shines through. Whether you read it from the comfort of your armchair or take it with you on your next walking adventure, it is the kind of book that will stay with you for many years to come."
Yorkshire Gazette and Herald
"What unites these accounts of plucky women is that they use walking and wandering to break gender barriers and to acquire a measure of freedom and independence."
"The written works of these women walker-authors offer new insights into the role of walking in human creativity. They also demonstrate that while women at times walked for the same purposes as men, the experience of being on foot has often meant markedly different things for them. As Andrews makes clear, the burdens placed on women throughout the centuries have never stopped them from walking."
"[Andrews's] study successfully fills in several of the blanks that have characterized and marginalized the Western history of female walking until today. As such, Andrews’s pioneering book is a must-read for any scholars working on the interplays of gender and mobility."
Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies
"A wild portrayal of the passion and spirit of female walkers and the deep sense of 'knowing' that they found along the path."
Raynor Winn, author of the "The Salt Path"
"For centuries, women have walked for freedom, pleasure, identity, and solace: they have walked-for-their-lives. Andrews’s remarkable history of these wanderers is timely and exciting. Enchanted by Andrews’s accessible, engaging, rigorous work, I opened this book and instantly found that I was part of a conversation I didn’t want to leave. A dazzling, inspirational history."
Helen Mort, author of "Black Car Burning," "Division Street," and "No Map Could Show Them"
“Walking is a seemingly straightforward, near-universal activity. But Andrews’s revelatory and important book shows us how walking has, for women, come to hold such political significance that walks—Reclaim the Streets marches—are a mainstay of feminist protest. With the absorbing voice and attention to detail of a favorite hiking companion, Andrews unearths the forgotten women who have walked for creativity, for independence and self-discovery, to remember, to forget, to escape violence, to find physical and emotional strength. It’s easy to think of hiking as a solitary pursuit, but Andrews expertly reveals how walking and walkers are profoundly shaped by social dynamics. The remarkable women in Wanderers walk in the face of restrictive corsets and crinolines, the demands of motherhood, nay-saying medical advice, and an ever-present fear of male violence. When we picture a walker, it is usually a man, alone on a mountain summit. But Andrews opens up a very different and vastly more expansive vista, in which ‘the history of walking has always been women’s history,’ and every present-day walker, male and female, should be grateful to her.”
Rachel Hewitt, historian and trail-runner, author of "Map of a Nation"
“Wanderers discovers a history of women walkers which spans three hundred years. . . . [Andrews’s] company is just as intelligent and lively as the women she ‘companions’ along the way. Heaven knows how many miles are covered—an astonishing number. But miles don’t really matter. What matters is that all women who can, should feel encouraged to get out there and claim our birthright. We should all be able to enjoy our walking free from fear, in what is, after all, our world too. Thanks to this book, we know that even in solitude we never walk alone. A fine female tradition is at our backs, encouraging us along.”
Kathleen Jamie, author of "Surfacing," "Sightlines," and "Findings" | from the foreword
Many have followed: Leslie Stephen, Henry David Thoreau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Emmanuel Kant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Thomas, Werner Herzog, Robert Macfarlane. When these men write about their walking, they look back to earlier male walker-writers; even the most recent accounts of walking, such as Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways (2012), refer mainly to other male walker-writers (with just the one exception in Macfarlane’s case: his championing of Nan Shepherd’s prose poetry about the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain). So utterly has writing about walking been dominated by men that Rebecca Solnit has described it, with some bitterness, as a kind of club, ‘not one of the real walking clubs, but a kind of implicit club of shared background’, where the members ‘are always male’. The 2014 reissue of the popular anthology While Wandering: Words on Walking rather proves Solnit’s point: the ‘words on walking’ are male-authored more than 90 per cent of the time; of around 270 entries, just 26 are written by women. Also underlining the validity of Solnit’s claim is Frédéric Gros’ A Philosophy of Walking (2014), which calls exclusively on examples of male walkers; the sole mention of a woman walker occurs, in passing, on the penultimate page. The universality of the title belies the fact that the book itself explores a philosophy of male walking, both in terms of subject-matter and in the pronouns used to describe the person walking – a generalized individual who is labelled throughout as ‘he’. While this is possibly an unfortunate effect of the book’s translation from French – with its gendered nouns – into English, it hammers home the apparent, and seemingly overwhelming, masculinity of walking. In describing Gros’ book in an article for the The Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr notes that ‘it’s an examination of the philosophy of various thinkers for whom walking was central to their work – Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Kant, Rousseau, Thoreau (they’re all men; it’s unclear if women don’t walk or don’t think).’
Women most certainly do walk. And they write about their walking, and their thinking, and have done for centuries. Elizabeth Carter, a clergyman’s daughter from Deal, began a lifetime of roaming as a young girl in the 1720s. Fearless and bold, and an aspiring vagrant, Carter covered thousands of miles of the Kent countryside, frequently alone, but sometimes with a friend, seeking out isolated corners for the quiet contemplation of the philosophical questions she would explore in the published works that later brought her fame, fortune and a reputation as one of the pre-eminent scholars in Britain. Carter wrote about her walks in jolly and chatty letters to her dearest female friends, where she turned sometimes unfortunate misadventures into comic episodes of derring-do. She was rarely deterred by anything the mercurial British weather could throw at her, and particularly relished the extremes of the eighteenth century’s harsh winters (what has since come to be known as the ‘Little Ice Age’). As a young woman, for instance, she wrote in high spirits to a friend in Canterbury how:
In proportion as my sister has mended, I have recovered my spirits, I am now nearly as gay and wild as ever, and want to be flying all over the face of the earth, though this weather something cramps my genius, for I cannot meet with any body romantic enough to take moonlight walks in the snow, and travel as people do in Lapland. If I was happy enough to be in Canterbury, what excursions should you and I make through trackless paths, and enjoy a season that less whimsical folk shudder at.
‘Whimsical’ and ‘wild’ are apt words selected by Carter to describe herself – a woman who longed to be truly itinerant, and aspired to be taken up by a local magistrate for appearing to have no fixed home – and they are words that pepper Carter’s writing about her walking. Freed first by a liberalminded father, and later by her literary wealth, from any need to conform to traditional notions of female propriety, Carter’s most ardent wish – one frequently realized – was to bound ‘from rock to rock like a wild kid’ all the days of her life.
Elizabeth Carter was in no way unique for relishing the contemplative space created by the rhythms of walking, or finding in pedestrianism rich matter for her literary works. Though it is William who enjoys the greater cultural recognition, his sister Dorothy Wordsworth was herself an accomplished and ardent walker who stepped out on an excursion almost every day of her early adult life, and she wrote extensively about the thoughts, memories and creative insights in which her walking played an integral part. She undertook walking tours, initially in the company of her brother and their close friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but later Dorothy Wordsworth walked with other women – her sister-in-law Mary Wordsworth, and Mary’s sister Joanna Hutchinson. All three women wrote accounts of their experiences on these trips, though Dorothy’s are the funniest, the most vibrant and the most rigorous in exploring the meaning of walking for her as a writer, as a woman and as a human being. Yet where William Wordsworth’s prodigious ambulations added to his prestige as a poet, Dorothy’s were considered by some to be detrimental to her appeal as a woman:
The greatest deductions from Miss Wordsworth’s attractions, and from the exceeding interest which surrounded her in right of her character, of her history, and of the relation which she fulfilled towards her brother, were the glancing quickness of her motions, and other circumstances in her deportment (such as her stooping attitude when walking), which gave an ungraceful, and even an unsexual character to her appearance when out-of-doors.
De Quincey’s description is indicative of some of the cultural reasons which have tended to circumscribe women’s walking in general, not just Dorothy Wordsworth’s in particular: unfeminine (or, in De Quincey’s terms, ‘ungraceful’ or ‘unsexual’) physical traits, and indeed unfeminine levels of physical activity, were subject to criticism – proper women were not supposed to be physically strong. When walking, De Quincey suggests, Dorothy loses her sex, even her personhood. If she is not a woman, what is she?
What is clear when reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals and letters, however, is that neither these cultural prejudices, nor her supposed ‘stooping attitude when walking’, were insuperable barriers to her performing pedestrian feats to match her brother’s: on one fine day in 1794, Dorothy walked with William ‘at her side’ for 33 miles, from Kendal to Keswick via Grasmere, ‘through the most delightful country that was ever seen’. Days later Dorothy Wordsworth wrote to her great aunt Crackenthorpe to counter the latter’s criticism at hearing of her niece’s ‘rambling about the country’:
So far from considering this a matter of condemnation, I rather thought it would have given my friends pleasure to hear that I had courage to make use of the strength with which nature has endowed me, when it not only procured me infinitely more pleasure than I should have received from sitting in a post-chaise – but was also the means of saving me at least thirty shillings.
Dorothy Wordsworth’s response demonstrates that walking was not only of physical benefit to her, but was a matter of personal, and perhaps moral, ‘courage’. To walk was to make use of God-given physical gifts, and was, in a shrewd nod to received ideas of feminine domestic economy, financially prudent. While the reference to physical pleasure might have disconcerted the conservative sensibilities of great aunt Crackenthorpe, Dorothy’s defence of her ramblings indicates the centrality of walking to her physical, emotional and indeed spiritual well-being.
There have been many other such women....