"Afoot in England" by W. H. Hudson (the initials standing for William Henry) is certainly NOT a guide book - something the author explicitly wants the reader to understand from the first page on.
Originally written in 1909, Mr. Hudson describes walks, buildings, people, villages, paths, trees, animals - most of all birds - he saw, observed or met during the early 1900s.
There is mention of places we can actually see for ourselves, such as Calleva (now Silchester), which at the time of the author's visits was just beginning to attract public interest and a lonely place free of tourists, or Stonehenge, where he spends some very cold, dark hours along with several hundred men wanting to observe the sunrise, only to go back at a later date to repeat the experience on his own, which he then finds very rewarding.
Some rivers and villages are named, but by no means all of them, and so it would be quite a difficult undertaking if anyone wished to walk on Hudson's traces.
At one point, he despairs of the weather - "has there ever been a June as cold and wet as that of 1906?" - something that made me think of what I have been hearing from my relatives and friends in England as well as reading on some of the blogs I follow.
Everything he writes about is neatly wrapped up into a chapter; some chapters talk about a particular place (such as Salisbury Cathedral) or a particular person (such as an elderly lady who told him the story of his life over the weeks he stayed at her cottage), while there is another chapter entirely dedicated to Robert Bloomfield's novel-length poem "The Famer's Boy", with many quotations.
As an ornithologist, the author knows and writes a great deal about the birds he observes during his walks, but this is never boring. The book does have its lengths (for instance, the aforementioned chapter about "The Famer's Boy"), but it is entertaining, interesting and not without humour. If nothing else, it shows how more than a 100 years ago, people dealt with early forms of tourism, from the mass to the individual kind.
Some of the words the author uses are naturally different to how a writer would express similar ideas now, but that only adds to the charm of this book.
From the variety of topics Mr. Hudson covers in the 25 chapters, I guess he'd be a well-read blogger if he lived today.
A beautiful collection of stories and observations picked up by a lifetime of walking among the villages and hamlets of England.