Anna’s Book Review: Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs

Mar. 10, 2023

Meeting books is a lot like meeting people.

There are any number of paths (trails?) that might connect us to one that changes our journey.

In my life there have been books I didn’t choose – say, a book club or teacher assigned it. There have been books recommended to me from friends or family members. And there have even been books so fundamental to the culture in which I live that I feel the depth and breadth of their impact even though I’ve never cracked their spine.

This book I simply met in a bookstore. 

The cover captivated me immediately. The delicate watercolor. The use of the word “windswept,” one of my favorite flavors of freedom.

Windswept asked to come home with me. It was my companion for a few days and has since made its way around my neighborhood as I’ve lent it out to women who regularly walk past my home in Seattle. I have a book I think you might like, and I’d like to lend you my copy.

At its core, this is a book about the secret walking lives of extraordinary women – some well known and some lesser known – for whom “rural or wild walking had proven to be life-changing.” Freida Lawrence, Gwen John, Clara Vyvyan, Georgia O’Keeffe, Daphne Du Maurier, Simone de Beauvoir, Nan (Anna) Shepherd, and Emma Gatewood. 

The book is what one might call “meticulously researched,” but that label falls short of the commitment Abbs demonstrates to her subject matter when she physically retraces these women’s steps in a series of hikes that takes her across the globe. Her key insight is that by investigating the lives of women who traded societal expectations for a walking stick and some comfortable shoes, she begins to search for and find her own answer to Mary Oliver’s oft-repeated question: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

“They were simultaneously and deliberately preparing themselves for a new path in life. They were testing their nerve, their resolve, their ability to be alone. Without realising it, I was doing exactly the same: ending one life and preparing for another.”

Abbs’ women used wilderness to find inspiration, to harness their creativity, and unearth deep inner peace.

The takeaway from Windswept, of course, is that we can do the same, if not that we should do the same.

Regardless, there is no denying that Abbs is quite the storyteller and the case she makes for long walks in the woods is compelling. Exercise caution when reading this book though, as it just might inspire you to take a long walk of your own. It is hard to ignore the fact that I am several weeks out from undertaking a months-long thru hike, a project I had not seriously considered before I met this book.

2 thoughts on “Anna’s Book Review: Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs

  1. As a lifelong reader, I love your description of meeting a book. Putting this one on my future reads list! H

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