Friday, November 14, 2014

Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim by Harry Bucknall

Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On  Foot, Across Europe to RomeLike a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome by Harry Bucknall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

These days it seems almost commonplace to encounter stories about walking a pilgrimage on The Way of St. James – El Camino Pilgrimage in Spain. I've read a number of these and lately have been wondering if The Way is really crowded. Certainly a large number of people's experiences have made it into print.

Therefore I was interested to see this book by Harry Bucknall about his pilgrimage walking the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome. I'm not the only one who's never heard of this ancient pilgrim trail considering how few pilgrims the author encounters on his way. Bucknall does a nice job of relating his walking adventures and tying in the history of the places on the route. As a straight forward travelogue it is enjoyable.

However, it falls short when it comes to a significant part of a pilgrim's experience. Bucknall very rarely lets us see his inner self. There are about four times in this 272 page book where we get any hint of what he hopes for, is surprised by, or learns about himself. Any of these experiences would have given the most average person reason for reflection which one might reasonably expect to be shared in a book like this. I don't demand one be a believer, which this author is not, or religious fervor from such a book. In fact, one of my favorite pilgrimage books is Virgin Trails by an atheist. I don't even have to agree with the person's personal conclusions, as witness my feelings about Grandma's on the Camino, another book I can recommend.

However, there is a special blend of tour guide, introspection, and the author as friend that the best books convey about such journeys. One need only look at H.V. Morton's travel books, most of which are not religious at all, to get a sense of that special blend. I'm not sure if this was an editorial or authorial decision, but Bucknall seems to hold himself aloof from opening up. This leaves one with the sense that we are just skimming the surface.

I can recommend it on the basis of simply seeing what it is like to undertake walking a pilgrimage in modern times while holding to medieval paths. The history, landscape, and journey itself are interesting. Just don't expect to find out what internal changes one might experience.

This was a free review copy. I think we can all see that didn't influence my review.


  1. Enjoyed the review. My favorite account of a pilgrimage to Rome was Hilaire Belloc's The Path to Rome. It is a strange book with the same lack of insight into the author's mindset that you mentioned in your review but includes all sorts of diversions: the author's own illustrations, his reminiscences, vignettes both modern and historical, jokes he's heard, songs he's sung. I'll re-read it one of these days.

    1. I haven't read any Belloc but that sounds like a perfect entry ...

    2. I think you'll like it a lot, Julie. I was just going to recommend it, but Robert beat me to it.

    3. I've requested it from the library, based on the double recommendation! Thanks guys! :-)