"In January 2006, a month or two after my father died, I thought I saw him again – a momentary impression of an old man, a little stooped, setting off for a walk in his characteristic fawn corduroys and shabby quilted jacket. After teenage rifts it was walking that brought us closer as father and son; and this 'ghost' of Dad has been walking at my elbow since his death, as I have ruminated on his great love of walking, his prodigious need to do it – and how and why I walk myself."
The January Man is the story of a year of walks that was inspired by a song, Dave Goulder's The January Man. Month by month, season by season and region by region, Christopher Somerville walks the British Isles, following routes that continually bring his father to mind. As he travels the country – from the winter floodlands of the River Severn to the lambing pastures of Nidderdale, the towering seabird cliffs on the Shetland Isle of Foula in June and the ancient oaks of Sherwood Forest in autumn – he describes the history, wildlife, landscapes and people he encounters, down back lanes and old paths, in rain and fair weather. This exquisitely written account of the British countryside not only inspires us to don our boots and explore the 140,000 miles of footpaths across the British Isles, but also illustrates how, on long-distance walks, we can come to an understanding of ourselves and our fellow walkers. Over the hills and along the byways, Christopher Somerville examines what moulded the men of his father's generation – so reticent about their wartime experiences, so self-effacing, upright and dutiful – as he searches for 'the man inside the man' that his own father really was.
Christopher Somerville is the walking correspondent of The Times. He is one of Britain's most respected and prolific travel writers, with thirty-six books, hundreds of newspaper articles and many TV and radio appearances to his name. He lives in Bristol.
"This is nature at its most embracing; human nature richly-woven into the cycle of the seasons and the ecologies of father and son, observed with the passion and learning of Britain's favourite walker. A truly wonderful, uplifting book, bursting with life."
– Nicholas Crane
"Christopher Somerville's The January Man has taken me on such a happy journey. I have experienced every type of weather, and walked until my feet are very sore; I have learnt many ancient stories, and stopped to notice the crows, the gulls, the geese, not to mention moss, flowers and clouds. I have thought about churches, pubs, morris men, farming, mud, rain, boots, badgers, apples, climate change – as well as growing older. All this from the comfort of my chair in the kitchen. And of course in thinking about all these things, I have also thought about my own place in the world, and the things I love. I have thought about my dad too and his final years. By the time I came to the end, I was crying. It is a wise, entertaining, kind book – one that makes you want to walk and want to read. The language is taut, beautiful, sparky and generous. It's a book not just for walkers or nature lovers, but anyone who loves a good plain story."
– Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
"A delightful, poetical hotchpotch [...] three parts nature notes to one part history lesson, one part personal memoir and one part loving salute to his late father [...] Somerville is a great wordsmith and could write about mud and make it interesting [...] he supplies a bumper draught of inspiration to visit some enticing, intriguing corners of Britain."
– Patrick Hosking, The Times
"BOOK OF THE WEEK [...] Like all the best nature writers, he's able to evoke an entire landscape with the lightest of touches."
– The Daily Mail
"This is the kind of book that will make you ache to leave the Tube or train at the very next stop and make for that distant ridge, that glimpsed wood."
– Stuart Maconie, Mail on Sunday
"How good is it to read a nature memoir that is not a study in misery? [...] For a writer, the highest compliment he or she can pay another writer is envy. And I was green on reading The January Man. It's not just Somerville's knowledge, it's the truth and clarity in his prose – which is like the pure tone that comes from a tuning fork."
– John Lewis-Stempel, author of Meadowland and The Running Hare
"The January Man is a book that makes you want to pull on your boots, grab a map and get out there [...] [Somerville] has the enviable power of noticing and describing details so beautifully: the subtle but once captured so distinct, variations of yellow in spring flowers; the way a kingfisher's garb – iridescent blue and copper in the sunshine, green and brown in the shadows – gives it the power of discretion [...] This is a gentle, thoughtful narrative about the nature of relationships [...] love opened up through the mutual experience of the power of place, enjoyed on foot."
– Fiona Reynolds, Country Life
"A goldmine of historical nuggets and walking inspiration"
"This inspiring book tells the story of a year of walking across the British Isles [...] Evocatively written, with charming snippets of childhood memories [...] Somerville explains how walking the countryside shaped him as an adult [...] Touching on his father's Second World War experiences and stoic nature, Somerville seeks to discover the man inside the man. Poignantly highlights the power walking has in forging close relationships and enabling communication, this heart-warming walker's diary proves real inspiration to exploring Britain on foot."
– Carys Matthews, Countryfile
"Christopher Somerville's moving, measured and immaculate The January Man is part walker's diary, part celebration of his reticent yet loving father, and part [...] well, anything that takes his fancy and ours. But most of all it is a tender rumination on the One Big Thing that troubles all of us when we put on our hiking boots – and that's mortality."
– Jim Crace, author of Harvest