If walks are themselves narratives, then their literature has to beguile the reader with an illusion of grounded actuality, of honest movement through space and time, or it loses us. Pain is part of the story, as it was (and still is) for pilgrims: in the “porcelain snow” of Tibet near the sacred mountain of Minya Konka, an altitude-sick Macfarlane follows routes sacred for thousands of years, where worshippers have performed the kora – body-length prostrations – “for thirty-two miles of tough rocky path, over the 18,000-foot Drolma pass”. Macfarlane’s own account of “pedestrian life at 15,000 feet” – all “ragged breathing” and cold felt in the bone – may not match the rigours of the polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s masterpiece The Worst Journey in the World (1922), the most extraordinary and compellingly written slog of them all, but it makes the pilgrims’ efforts seem yet more remarkable.

more from Adam Thorpe at the TLS here.