Northern Man

12 July 2010

From the sublime to the ridiculous – not only am I not in London for this blog I’m nearly as far away as you can be and still be in England. I’m 320 miles up north within sight of Hadrian’s Wall outside the hostel at Once Brewed. I’ve journeyed up here to walk a stretch of the Pennine Way – 11k (about 7 miles) from Once Brewed to Greenhead – with the poet Simon Armitage. The 429 kilometre (268 miles) Pennine Way National Trail chases the Pennine Mountain tops along the rugged backbone of England. Its route includes the Peak District through the Yorkshire Dales and over Hadrian’s Wall to the Cheviots and is amongst the finest upland walking in England.

The day started with a poetry reading in the visitor centre but me and Simon had spent the time before chatting about the previous evening’s World Cup Final (he’s a season ticket holder at Manchester United). We were both outraged at the Dutch conduct – total football to total thuggery if you ask me – and fairly happy that this approach didn’t reap any reward. I’ve no idea whether the reading was well attended – Simon seemed happy enough – cos I’ve never been to one before. The weather was great, nice ‘n’ sunny without being too hot but I was fooled into not applying any sun screen and so finished more than a bit ruddy faced in the afternoon.

We were joined by a local – Marjorie – for the first coupla miles. Simon had been saying that he’d seen very few other walkers so far on his journey but today while not teeming with people we saw enough to keep up a fairly regular ‘hi ya’ greeting along the Wall. Right at this point I can hear the more experienced of you walkers out there muttering ‘but he’s walking the thing in the wrong direction’. Well firstly that’d be reason enough for me but he’s doing it from top to bottom  – finishing in Edale – because he lives near there and he likes the idea of walking home. (The existing guidebooks suggest that to keep the weather at your back you should go south to north – aah that would account for my red face then.)

Simon and I have a mutual friend – The Wedding Present’s David Gedge – and although I’m not very familiar with the poetry I’ve read Gig. As a result when we’ve exhausted the football conversation – there’s really only so much a Man U and a Chelsea fan can agree on – we start on music. With its mile forts, funnily enough every mile, Hadrian’s Wall counts you handily along the route. Just outside Greenhead we finally get round to talking about walking (see what I did there – poetry huh?). Just why he chose the Pennine Way for his wandering minstrel begging act? Why walking is important to him and much more. All this will appear in a future edition of walk magazine. Here though in homage to Simon’s interviewing technique is the list of ‘or’ questions along with his answers (underlined) I asked:


Walker or Rambler

Right of Way or Right to Roam

Mountain or Moor

Lady Gaga or Madonna

Goal line technology or No Goal line technology

Shelley or Keats

iPhone or Blackberry

Serena or Venus

Beer or Lager

Town or Country

George Formby or David Gedge

He entered properly into the spirit of this only enhancing his answers twice – he was adamant that town did not include city and that Lady Gaga was chosen for his daughter. All in all it was a great day and I end by wishing Simon well for the rest of the walk especially as the weather forecast for the next few days isn’t as favourable as today. (His exploits from the whole walk – including some poetry – will appear in a new book sometime soon.) I blag a lift back to Once Brewed and begin the long drive south.

Listen to:

Detroit Social Club – Northern Man

Johnny Tillotson – Poetry In Motion

Laura Marling – Rambling Man

Morrissey – Sister I’m A Poet

The Wedding Present – Corduroy – Single Version

 The Fall – British People In Hot Weather


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