In praise of pathways

So many  paths across the actual littoral– not just the Fife Coastal Path, but all those purposeful  patterns of webbed feet on the beaches at high tide, the spoor-spotted tunnels through the undergrowth at the field’s edges. So many pathways too through our Littoral programme, cunningly interconnecting.

Listen to the magnificent Robert Macfarlane,  his litany of the ancient  paths which shadow or slant away from our modern roads : “Pilgrim paths, green roads, drove roads, corpse roads, trods, leys, dykes, drongs, sarns, snickets – say the names out loud and at speed and they become a poem or a rite – holloways, bostles, shutes, driftways, lichways, ridings, halterpaths, cartways carneys, causeways, herepaths.”

Did you catch that one half way through? Robert Macfarlane’s  latest book is in fact called “Holloway” -not a tribute to the esteemed former bishop who will once more grace this year’s programme with his unmatched eloquence, but lovely serendipity nevertheless.   The title refers to a “hollow way” – a deep and sunken lane, worn into soft ground through centuries. The book is an object of covetable beauty, created with an artist and fellow writer, printed using specially  cast type, the kind of thing you can never caress on your Kindle. It is exquisite, small,  not expensive and should be bestowed, munificently, upon your most deserving friends.

As should Robert’s other books, all things of beauty, learning and revelation, all full of  exhilarating excursions to forgotten, wild, resonant, remote or just seen-through-new-eyes places. When the idea of a coherent literary programme for the East Neuk Festival was first mooted, fellow director Jenny Brown and I were immediately clear that it should be about landscape and seascape, reflecting aspects of the natural world.  I am about to run into serious difficulty here, as virtually every author described  as a “nature writer” loathes the term. True, it is reductive lazy genre  short hand, but it is easier to say and write than “profound, observant, erudite thinkers who write illuminatingly,  personally  and passionately  about the effects on our brain and souls of taking the  time and effort  truly to look at all the living things and land around us.” So, tough, “nature writer” it is for now – and Robert is the absolute finest of his generation. Oh and he’s ridiculously charming, compelling and a complete hero too. I’m quite glad he’s joining us for this 10th anniversary festival actually. Or did you gather that already?


Catherine Lockerbie