In the Ancient Paths, Graham Robb goes on an epic journey. He cycles 15,000 miles across Europe on a quest to discover the lost roads of the Celts.
As he traces these long-forgotten routes across Spain, France and the UK, his travels immerse him in the gods, arts and science of the time. He argues that the Druids created an extremely sophisticated society that rivalled that of the Romans.
The trip isn’t Robb’s first cycle odyssey. In a previous book, the well-received ‘The Discovery of France’, he cycled 14,000 miles across France and produced a biography of the French people covering its geography, history and culture.
After an initial discovery that the Via Heraklea – the fabled route of Hercules that runs across the Iberian peninsula to the Alps – plots a straight line across the angles of sun rises and sunsets on the solstices, he undertakes intensive research to piece together evidence for a society much more advanced than previously thought.
On paper, I should have loved the Ancient Paths – it has travel, maps and history all in one. But, unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this book at all. In fact, in something of a rare occurrence for me, I couldn’t actually finish it.
I always try to finish all of the books I start, let alone when I’ve been asked to review them but even though I tried and tried, I just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for it.
I have no idea why I disliked it so much. It’s obviously very well written and Robb has undertaken a great deal of research. It was quite a dense read, however, and I think that the fact that it’s not a period of history I have much previous knowledge about so it was quite hard to jump right into the narrative. Similarly, I found the UK portion of the book easier going as, in general, I’ve more of an interest in British history in that period than of Europe’s.
I’m sure that if you are interested in Celtic history, this book would be a great read, but it just wasn’t for me. I would, however, consider trying to read it again in the future if I’d done some background reading about the Celts – I think that having that context would make the book easier to read and make it a lot more interesting.