For Macfarlane is clear that holloways are possessed of the past in the way other places, and other roads, are not: “You do not have to be a mystic,” he writes, “to accept that certain paths are linear only in a simple sense. Like trees, they have branches and like rivers they have tributaries. They are rifts within which time might exist as pure surface, prone to recapitulation and rhyme, weird morphologies, uncanny doublings.” Walking along such paths, he says, “you might walk up strange pasts, in the hunter’s sense of ‘walking up’ meaning ‘to flush out, to disturb what is concealed’.” In this he follows Thomas, who claimed to have heard “the voices of long-dead Roman soldiers as he walked an ancient trackway near Trawsfynydd in Wales. In Hampshire, where a stand of aspens whispered at the cross-roads of two old paths, he listened to the speech of a vanished village: the ringing of hammer, shoe, and anvil from the smithy, the clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing from the inn.” Thomas’s poems, Macfarlane writes, “are thronged with ghosts, doubles and paths that run through people as surely as they run through places”.
more from William Dalrymple at The Guardian here.