Harry BUCKNALL. Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim: On Foot Across Europe to Rome. London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2014, pp. 245. $23.29 hardcover ISBN 1408187248. (Also Kindle $11.49). Reviewed by Meg Wilkes KARRAKER, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN 55105
Several of my friends have told me of their inspirational, often deeply religious experiences walking the Camino de Santiago, which ends at the tomb of Saint James in northwest Spain. I listened, first with curiosity, then with uncertainty, as I wondered: Could I make such a journey? Last summer, I walked a portion of Sentiero degli dei, the storied Path of the Gods that traverses a set of steeply-set trails above the Amalfi Coast through the Sorrentine peninsula. By the end of that day (a swelteringly hot 4th of July, with a dozen or so other travelers of various levels of ability), I thought I was experiencing not the Path of the Gods, but the Wrath of the Gods.
Now, four months later, I have the opportunity to review Harry Bucknall’s account of his walk along the via Francigena, the 2,000 year old pilgrim trail that links Canterbury eventually to Rome. Following an account involving a computer mishap that cost him a completed manuscript, Bucknall carries us along from England, through France and Switzerland, and finally to the Eternal City. He shares the ups and downs of his journey, as in the case of his arrival in San Gimignano, that archetypical, Tuscan hill town:
To visit San Gimignano in summertime is to take leave of your senses; I would rather dangle my eyeballs in rock salt that ever have to face the wall of humanity that greeted me the moment I stepped through its massive gateway. Trinket shops, medieval torture museums and drink stalls on every corner; the placed screamed ‘move on!’ (p. 197).
He does not treat all of his encounters so caustically. (For example, he gives a concise little history of the founding of Canterbury Cathedral in the third chapter.) However, while Bucknall makes no claim that his is a scholarly book in any sense of the word (no citations, (sadly) no bibliography, and only a few roughly sketched maps), I would probably not purchase Like a Tramp. I’d like something with more substantive content than this book’s bits of pop history and occasional literary reference. Even more, I would prefer something with more respect for some of the people and places the author encounters on such a “pilgrimage.”
Harry Bucknall is a freelance travel writer.