Clare Balding: Walking Home

Mary Tweed

Clare Balding’s new book, Walking Home: My Family And Other Rambles, describes a walk that she plans with her brother, in which they will walk the Wayfarer’s Walk back to their childhood home in Highclere. This is interspersed with anecdotes gleaned from her years presenting Radio 4’s Ramblings programme, along with her own more personal discovery of the love of walking.

I have to confess that I didn’t actually "read" this book. I cheated. I downloaded it from Audible and listened to it while driving in the car. I spend a lot of time as an unpaid taxi driver, so I need something to while away the hours. This turned out to be a bonus, as I was soothed by Clare Balding’s calming voice, as she narrated her own words.

The book is a mixture of comic tales, celebrity gossip, gorgeous descriptions of the British countryside and personal reflection. Much of the comedy comes from the rather disorganised walk that she and her brother undertake with the help of family and friends. Her dog, Archie, takes a central role in the book too and she has a brilliant way with words that is able to convey the true character of her pet in a way that does not come across as sentimental. The sections relating to the Sochi Winter Olympics and London 2012 were full of juicy anecdotes about famous sporting stars and provided an insight into life as a sports presenter dashing from one event to another.

She writes well about episodes of Ramblings and the array of people with whom she walked and delves into how walking groups the breadth of Britain have helped all sorts of people from the recently bereaved, those suffering mental health issues, others facing chronic illness and loneliness. She is taken out of her comfort zone, as hosts insist she walk backwards, mindfully or barefoot and all is reported in the same enthusiastic style that makes her such a popular presenter. She paints beautiful pictures with words of the landscapes that have inspired her to declare to her partner Alice that “that is where we should move to now;” a different place each week.

The sections I enjoyed most were those relating to her own journey from horsewoman to walker and the benefits that it has brought to her life, about which she is evangelical. Walking gives her a sense of space in a busy working life; it gives her companionship; and clearly keeps her grounded. If I had any criticism of the book, it is that the ditzy Clare she describes is hard to equate with the professional presenter, who manages a heavy workload, walks for at least an hour every day AND finds the time to write a book. I suspect that the air headed version provided more scope for comedy.

This is a highly readable book (or audiobook) that would appeal to anyone who loves the outdoors, the countryside or simply walking. She has an elegant turn of phrase honed over years of describing what she sees for a radio audience. Now that Clare Balding has discovered the joys of Nordic Walking and has done so much to promote the sport to a wider British public, it only feels fair to recommend her book, which I do so gladly, having enjoyed it so much. Go and buy your copy now!

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