MILES AWAY: A Walk Across France by Miles Morland (Random House: $21; 239 pp.) "It was a strange feeling," writes Miles Morland, "not having to pack the car or wait for a taxi. Just walk. Where you like. When you like." Overhead, a pigeon burbles. From behind a hill comes the hum of a vineyard tractor. Ahead, the twin towers of a distant cathedral. "Like poppies, they make the heart sing." So begins the unlikely but entirely engaging walking tour of Morland and wife Guislaine, across the south of France from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, 350 miles in 30 days.
No prancing youths, the Morlands (he's 45; she's not far behind), no thewy lederhosen types. Guislaine, half-French, has been known to walk in the park near their London flat. Miles' training has consisted mostly of 22 years "Shouting Down a Phone." He's just quit his job as a high-powered, high-salaried, highly successful investment banker. He was bored: "It's the lack of discovery that ages people." The Walk is hyperbolic with discovery.
Most of it is pleasant: wild garlic, old stone bridges, local wine "as fat and scented as a harem queen," the "urgent noises of small animals and birds going about their dawn business." Less than idyllic are attacks by dogs, a savage swan and the world's biggest bull; "a disgusting lunch in the back room of a dingy bar"; brambles; mud. Pain: blisters "coming along nicely; they need another day or two to ripen." But the pace--of the Morlands and of the book--never flags nor loses its freshness. "The very slowness of walking allows you to see the texture of things," confesses Morland, quondam fast-tracker, confirmed snail.