One of Britain's leading poets....and Simon Armitage.
I’ve just finished Poet Simon Armitage’s Walking Home-Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way. In a nutshell, if you haven't read it, Simon decides to walk the Pennine Way- iconoclastically from North to South rather than the more commonly practiced trod which most people start in the South before heading oop north to the Scottish border. His big idea is that he will stay in various hostelries en-route and by not taking any money with him, he will instead, ‘sing for his supper’. Performing his poetry in return for his bed and board.
It sounded a great idea and I’ve always loved Simon’s work, on the page and television. He seems like the sort of guy with whom you could easily share a pint-a real pint of brown stuff-not a poncy glass of Chateau la Tour 75- and who would happily discuss the works of Homer or the early albums of The Smiths with equal enthusiasm. As a card carrying Yorkshire patriot, he might have been born on the wrong side of The Pennines, poor lad, but he nevertheless has his imagination and humour as compensation. Although he did lose some Brownie points this morning when I discovered he’d accepted a CBE in 2011. I’m old fashioned. I prefer my creative heroes firmly anti-establishment but nobody’s perfect.
Anyway...it transpired that Simon’s Pennine Way journey was not quite as I had imagined it. For a start, he had trumpeted his plans via his website and consequentially had fans falling over themselves to offer accommodation, meals and entertainment at each stage of his journey. Furthermore, he was bringing with him-for reasons unknown?- a bloody big turquoise suitcase christened ‘The Tombstone' which his supporters would ferry for him between each leg. And then there was ‘The Sock’. At each performance, Simon would pass around a walking sock-washed I trust?- for donations. Bringing in a grand total of £3,086.42 or an average of £171.47 for each 30/45 minute reading. That’s not bad for ‘Singing for your Supper’. In fact you could liken this approach to a form of walking ‘Glamping’. Walk 12 miles and get paid, wined and dined for the privilege.
Taken with the fact that he was walking relatively short legs with a day-pack, then you have to admit that it’s not quite Cheryl Strayed or Chris Townsend territory. However...despite this element, I think there is a lot to be said for ‘civilised backpacking’ like this. Last year I had great plans for a long distance walk of my own which I had mapped out across north and Mid Wales and which started out on the English border near Oswestry. Unlike Simon’s civilised quest, I intended to carry everything I needed for the journey on my back. Camping out each night with my hound in a one man tent. In retrospect, perhaps not a good idea. Wet dog, wet walker, tiny tent! I would get water from the abundant mountain streams- just popping in a sterilizing tablet- and eat mainly pre-dried packet food...yum!
To my shame and embarrassment I had to abandon the journey on the first day. The route itself which I had planned from the border over The Berwyn Mountain Range was actually excellent and followed footpaths and bridleways whilst avoiding public roads....and people. The route took me through some impressive quiet upland border country but the problem was my feet. Wearing an old pair of KSB’s which I thought would be comfy,with some decent socks, the reality was the boot/sock combo just didn’t cut the mustard. By the time I reached the lower slopes of the Berwyns, I was applying compeeds to my raw red feet and looking up at black clouds encircling the 2.700’ summits. By this time, my water had run out and far from finding myself surrounded by babbling clear mountain streams, the only features offering anything like a vague suggestion of moisture, were the rank peat bogs which I stumbled through.
Luckily, I had a get out of jail card as I live not far from the other side of The Berwyns. If I could stagger into Llandrillo that evening then I knew that a hot bath and cold beer awaited. Which brings me right back to the Simon Armitage school of walking. I still plan to do my planned walk one day before my body totally disintegrates. This year is out as all my energies are going into restoring a cottage. But next year possibly, although I won’t be seeking out kindly souls to put me up and transport my rucksack from stage to stage. I certainly won’t be carrying everything on my back. Next time, I’ll do a pre walk stash of water and food at different stages and ditch the tent in favour of a Basha. Although I am aware of some roofed ruins I could use for night shelter. Not quite drawn from the Simon Armitage school of civilised poetic ramblings, but a lightweight approach which might..just might, offer a possibility of my completing this particular Home Boy's odyssey.