4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

These days people imagine going off-grid, turning away from the technology, screens and the constant interruptions from the modern world. There are those that have done it are a special breed, such as Mark Boyle who tells his story in The Way Home. Most seem to be happy with their choice of limiting their interaction with the modern world.

And what a perfume there was to it! It was like the scent of fresh tea with something else added, something essentially English, the sweetness and fragrance of the woodlands of this England.

Go back 100 years and it was all off-grid! But even then you could find places that were isolated from normal life if you knew where to look. Back in the 1920s Walter Murray had been living in London and working as a journalist, but he had become tired of city life and decided to move back to the country. He moved to Horam in Sussex into an almost derelict house near a farm. He wanted to make a living writing and collecting wild herbs.

One of those days which are like jewels among the many-coloured beads of spring. A day when we seem to breathe not air, but sunshine, when the sky is high and deeply blue, the horizon faintly far, when the woods ring with the bird music and the new green is still so light that there seems to be more branch than leaf.

This is the book that he wrote about his stay there over the course of a year. It is partly a matter of fact journal of his day to day activities, the battle with purging the place of rats and making the place semi habitable. He wasn’t alone but had the company of a collie mixed breed dog called Floss but it was still a hard year collecting and carrying all the herbs back to Copsford for drying. Each chapter concentrates on a herb that is in season and the work he does in collecting them, it is back-breaking work for a paltry reward.

It is mundane work, but what he relishes is being outdoors. He goes from being restless and agitated to being calmed by the natural world. Staring at the hedgerows and slowly he beings to really see what is around him, the dance of light beneath the canopy of a tree, taking in the scents of the meadows and watching the birds go about their business without noticing him. This sort of work is lonely too, he manages mostly, but his spirit is lifted when a close friend from childhood visits.

I did think rather him than me a few times. The thought of spending a year in a dwelling that leaks and is borderline derelict (it’s the house on the cover), doesn’t hold a lot of appeal, really. That said, being able to take a step away from modern life and do something different every now and again does have some appeal. Murray writes about the things that he sees as he walks from the house to where he is collecting the herbs from and slowly over the summer he goes from being merely an observer to someone who becomes in tune with all the living things around him. This is one of those deceptive books, you think there is not going to be much apart from the tedium of work and yet there is much more to this and that is solely down to the quality of his writing.

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