Mountain Literature Classics: Walking Home by Simon Armitage

© Ronald Turnbull

A man walking down the Pennine Way, from Kirk Yetholm to Edale, mostly on his own but sometimes with some other people. In early summer, the reasonably dry early summer of 2010. The difference is: he's doing it without any money at all, relying on the kindness of strangers to put a few bob in an old sock. And the other difference is, being our future Poet Laureate.

And so we get the kitlist and the bit about the blisters: but also the occasional bright image like a sundew among the acres of black bog. We get the usual stuff about the boglands north of Hadrian's Wall – but also the odd aside about Sir Gawain in the Green Knight poem back in the 14th Century. A trek of a couple of hundred miles, that one, starting wherever Camelot actually was, ending in the Peak District in a spot that may (or may not) have been Lud's Chapel below the Roaches, hiked in the dead of winter in full armour and carrying a chunky axe. Plus, of course, Homer's Odyssey, the first ever book based on a long-distance hike.

The book has refreshing moments of rudeness. He even manages to insult a mountain

Walking Home  © Simon Armitage

And so, on page 29, we get the cows that "lumber freely through Highbrook like big slow balloons". The shelter hut on Lamb Hill is an "ironically positioned beach hut". All with a gentle strain of self mockery for being not particularly fit and for writing poetry about the outdoors while sitting behind double glazing with his knees underneath a computer.

The book also has refreshing moments of rudeness. I'm pretty sure Jean at the Byrness Hostel, with her "quaint but artful" display of chopped ham, oxtail soup, and little jars of spread, won't be appreciating her complimentary copy of 'Walking Home'. Neither, perhaps, the Northumbrian piper at Bellingham on page 55, "giving physiotherapy to a small marsupial while wearing calipers and smoking a bong". Come to that, the warden at Once Brewed probably isn't too thrilled with the extended metaphor comparing his luxury two-bed dorm to a prison cell, one where they've casually forgotten to leave the slop bucket in the slop-bucket corner… Armitage even manages to insult an actual mountain. Cross Fell is not a proper fell at all, but "some abhorrent strain … the Caliban version, illegitimate and monstrous and exiled to the other side of the M6".

Pennine Way approaches Auchope Hut, the Cheviots  © Ronald Turnbull
Pennine Way approaches Auchope Hut, the Cheviots
© Ronald Turnbull

The book closes with a lyrical description of Edale village, as seen from the top of Jacob's ladder: "like some toy village where animals drive cars and kindly old ladies ride penny-farthings and a relentlessly chirpy postman makes his rounds in a bright red van with his cat on the passenger seat". Smoke rises from behind a barn, the church steeple gleams in the sun, he can just about make out the Old Nag's Head and the visitor centre.

So I decided to head up onto Kinder Edge for the required photograph of the outdoor writer reading the outdoor book. While failing to notice the dodgy element in Armitage's Edale. Yes, Postman Pat rampages around Boot and Upper Eskdale, rather than Edale and Upper Booth. What's more, do you even see the Old Nag's Head from the top of Jacob's Ladder?

Simon Armitage sets out from Marsden towards Bleaklow and Kinder Scout and the end of the Pennine Way (which for most people who walk the Pennine Way is actually the beginning) at the Old Nag's Head above Edale. But by now he's got the title for his book, which is called 'Walking Home'. And as it happens, his home is actually at Marsden, a day's walk north of the Old Nag's Head. Marsden, the place he's just leaving. Which walk home he has in fact now done. And the cloud's down on Kinder Scout. And he already got lost on Cross Fell so he doesn't need to do that again.

So he doesn't.

He's a poet after all, he can perfectly well imagine the delightful view of Edale from the top of Jacob's Ladder. Which anyway with the cloud down he isn't going to see – leaving aside that from the top of Jacob's Ladder you don't see Edale village anyway.

Which is why the photo below shows me reading Simon Armitage at the one point of the Pennine Way Simon Armitage didn't actually do.

Reading 'Walking Home' on Crowden Tower, Kinder Scout, above an actual (rather than imagined) Edale  © Ronald Turnbull
Reading 'Walking Home' on Crowden Tower, Kinder Scout, above an actual (rather than imagined) Edale
© Ronald Turnbull

25 Jul, 2022

I very much enjoyed both this and Walking Away; I particularly enjoyed the flutterings from his heart on cresting the top of the hill (but won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet).

On a side note I also greatly enjoy Ron Turnbull's books, in a different way of course, but tales of Glyn's homemade fell brogues deserve a wider audience too...

Thanks for the article - typically quirky - I wasn't expecting this one to come up in the series, but am glad it did


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