Review: A Pyrenean Adventure, Martin Banfield

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The growth of the internet and low cost digital technology has seen an explosion in ‘self publishing’ over the last decade. I’ve reviewed a number of self-published books here and a few of them have gone on to be very popular.

In all honesty, I do receive some pretty dreadful, self-published, books but this one, my friends, is a little gem.

Martin Banfield is a friend of mine, fellow blogger, hill walker, Pyrenean aficionado and TGO Challenger. This summer Martin walked the full length of the GR10, the long distance footpath on the French side of the Pyrenees. For much of the walk he was accompanied by his partner Sue and on other occasions his walking companions were a mixture of old and new friends; one of the great things about trails such as these is that you make many new friends as you walk.

Martin blogs as he walks, something that I have never been comfortable at doing. At the end of each day he sits down and writes his journal on his smartphone. When he has phone signal he turns his trail prose into blog posts, enhancing the with the photographs that he has taken on that very same smartphone.

The result of this technique is that the walking experience is shared with friends — real and virtual — in almost real time. The further Martin walked this summer the more this blog became a shared journey. Regular contributors added to the fun and humour of the trip and others who dipped in and out clearly took inspiration from Martin’s walk. As walked progressed I remember writing a post here describing Martin’s journal as one of the best, current, reads on the net. Reading this now is a reminder of how right that observation was!

Another fan of Martin’s walk was another TGO Challenger and print designer Humphrey Weightman. Humphrey was fascinated by what he saw emerging from Martin’s blog and decided that it would work — posts, reader comments and all — as a book. Humphrey knocked up some drafts and dummies and when Martin returned from France he found these proofs waiting for him at home. The two of them decided that the experiment had worked and over a few weeks Martin tidied up the text a little and spent a little time processing his photographs. Humphrey then laid down the page design, commissioned printers and — hey presto — this book was born.

The book takes the form of an A4, bound, soft cover. The larger A4 format works really well allowing most of the day entries and the accompanying photos and reader comments to sit on one page. I can’t remember a blog — comments and all — laid out this before, but the formula really works.

This is a more polished version of the blog (still available online) but the text has lost none of its spontaneity, vibrancy and humour. The many photographs that illustrate the adventure are well composed and provide readers with a real insight as to how these mountains look and work. The quality of the photographs are quite remarkable given that they were composed on a smartphone.

But it is in the reading that this book delights. It is a real account of a real walk, not an account of great heroics or deaf defying stunts, but the kind of experience that is well within the reach of all of us. If you are thinking of walking in the Pyrenees — planning anything from a full traverse to a week’s leisurely rambling — this book will give you a very good idea of what to expect.

Writer Kev Reynolds has recently said (in his new collection of memories from a life of mountain walking) the more he reflects on his adventures the more he recognises that great trips are made of up encounters with people and not just the appreciation of the sheer beauty of the landscape. Martin captures this trail comradeship really well here. We meet many new people along the trail and share with Martin his joy of meeting them again a little further on. There are some lovely vignettes of the town and villages a long the trail and stories of wonderful hospitality received from Inns and mountain hotels along the way. The trail is illuminated well as you would expect but Martin also shares with us the look and feel of the villages in which he stays to resupply and take a break. There is humour and quirkiness here, not least in Martin’s sub project to document the variety of tractors that are found along the Pyrenean ridge.

Over the last few years Steve Cracknell has had some success with his own account his walk along the GR10 (If Only You Walk Long Enough) and I’ve no doubt that Martin’s book delight many in the same way.

The idea to publish the text and the comments is a master stroke as, if you missed the trek at the time, you can still share the adventure as it evolved while also experiencing the banter between Martin and those who were following the trip.

I know many of you still appreciate the look and feel of the printed book and that   many of you are happy hunting down titles from specialist shops and supplier.

To get hold of a copy email Martin directly at:

martin@topwalks.com

The book costs £12 and this includes post and packaging.

European delivery costs £15.70 and shipping to USA and other international destinations will cost £18.

Martin accepts payment by cheque or bank transfer.

Anyone who buys a copy of the book will also be given a PDF version for their ereader if they request it.

The initial print run is limited — so get in quickly!

This is a lovely, lovely book that will sit well in any personal library of mountain literature.

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