Walking Home by Simon Armitage
Poet Simon Armitage is actually something of a polymath, as his writings include poetry, travel books, plays and novels as well as translations, plus TV and radio work. “Walking Home” is subtitled “Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way” and takes the form of a travel book interspersed with the odd poem; however, it’s also the story of an adventure, as Armitage aimed to walk the Pennine Way in reverse, ending up at his home, and fund himself by doing poetry readings along the way – hence the ‘troubadour’ bit! I read about this book when it first came out, and figured it would be something I would like very much, so I was really happy when it turned up in the local Oxfam.
The first work of Armitage’s I read was in fact another travel book – “Moon Country”, written with Glyn Maxwell, when the two poets went off to explore Iceland. A mixture of prose and poetry, I found the book evocative and thoughtful, and I’ve picked up Armitage’s work whenever I’ve had the chance.
The Pennine Way is, of course, very northern – as is Armitage – and the thought of walking all that way in the wind and the rain and the fog would be quite daunting to the most experienced trekker. Armitage, however, is not that trained up and although not old, admits he’s middle-aged and perhaps not that fit; so the journey will be a test of strength and willpower, and also a test of whether the troubadour tradition survives and whether he can sustain himself by way of the written word.
Of course, it’s not quite so simple as just packing a bag and setting off, and Armitage is honest enough about this, relating the background to the trip, the network of friends and contacts made online who’ll arrange the readings and guide him along the way; and also those responsible for carting his luggage from spot to spot! He’s an engaging and honest writer, and never glosses over either the difficulties, or the help he’s received.
So the journey begins up north in Scotland, and Armitage makes his way through what is often a quite barren landscape, meeting some kind, fascinating and unusual folks on the way. The readings are by and large a success (with funds collected in a sock at the end!), and despite getting lost occasionally he manages to stay on course. And there’s plenty of chance for meditation, as Armitage mulls over life, walking, poetry and all sorts of other subjects on his way, dropping in poems here and there that have been composed en route.
Illustrated with photos taken en route, this was an excellent, stimulating read; I confess I’m very much an armchair traveller (though I would get out more if I could!) and this was one of the most enjoyable journeys I’ve read about in a long time. I’ve come to realise that the travel books I read and like most are the ones where you make some kind of connection with the author; for example, I’ve read a lot of Colin Thubron, but never warmed to him in the same way I have to Eric Newby and his works. I think the person you travel alongside when reading a book like this really does matter – and Simon Armitage is a great travelling companion!