Book Review: For the Exe by Stephen Reynolds

I got sent a copy of this for free because the author and I follow each other on Instagram. It came with a lovely note from the author, and having finished reading, using the note as a bookmark, I’m going to put both away safely.

I’ve read three of Reynolds’ books about his walking adventures, and loved them all. He writes with a genuine warmth and humour, a passion that shines through as he recounts his journeys. I like the way he uses Wodehouse style phrases throughout, his running gags and his clear love of nature and walking. He inspired me to add walking the entire Wales Coast Path to my bucket list.

This book breaks from the others in that it doesn’t follow a single path in one long journey, rather it sees the writer try to walk the Exe river from source to sea. This is done over the course of several smaller walks, but what really marks it out as different are the sprinkling of chapters that deal with other things. Short, bursts of fiction, some involving Reynolds’ own family, others figures who may have interacted with the river over the years.

I was a little thrown when the first arrived, but I must say I rather enjoyed them after getting used to it. Some are lyrical and filled with metaphor, others have more humour like his mother encountering the big cat said to roam the area or a highwaymen spreading his own legend to the patrons of a pub. Whatever their tone or content, all of them are very well written and add an unusual element to the amusing ambling anecdotes. I think different readers will enjoy different ones more, but all are interesting diversions.

In a way they make sense, they seem the kind of daydreaming wonderings and ideas you have while walking, making up stories for the places you pass, imagining what it was like in the past, and what the lives of those who lived there were like.

At the end of the book Reynolds explains why this book differs so much, and it makes sense, and made me love this book in another way. The book, as with all the media I’ve consumed this year became a break, a relief from virus fears, the monotony of being stuck indoors and my struggling mental health. To learn that this book, which will amuse and divert the reader served a similar purpose for the writer is quite lovely.

It’s funny, touching and once again Reynolds is great company on the walk, and here shows how his skills as a writer have improved and continue to develop. A gem of a book. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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