The fine art of the pilgrimage having declined somewhat since its medieval heyday (explored in well-researched, pertinent and entertaining asides that never overwhelm the basic narrative), you might think that Moore was basically in for a solitary trip. Far from it. He meets pilgrims from all over the world, with varying degrees of faith, dedication and stamina -- not to mention eccentricity. "One thing was certain. Doing this walk never made anyone less weird."
Moore has an excellent ear for accents (for instance, the woman who's wandering around aimlessly after having encountered a fellow traveller with a huge joy, which she has smocked) and is not afraid to reinforce national stereotypes. But he's also ready to mock himself, and to own up to the unsentimental feelings inspired by Shinto, who has a horror of crossing wooden bridges and an apparent determination to make life as difficult as possible. But as the journey progresses (more than 500 miles; more or less a million steps) Moore becomes fonder of Shinto, and their final parting is remarkably, understatedly, affecting.
Which all sounds serious, and it's a book that made me laugh out loud.
And did the pilgrimage have any effect?
I had learnt to be more patient and less fastidious, to cope when many of the basic decencies of modern life were absent, to relish them when they weren't. I had made sense of a complex world by appreciating the humble solidarities of the past; learnt the true value of water; acquired a Dark Ages lexicon of livestock feed and disease. I had learnt to accept, even befriend people I'd previously have dismissed with a cheap and ugly laugh: brittle-spirited mystics, policewomen, Austrians.