Walking Away by Simon Armitage
Not content with walking the Pennine Way as a modern day troubadour, an experience recounted in his bestseller and prize-wining Walking Home, the restless poet has followed up that journey with a walk of the same distance but through the very opposite terrain and direction far from home.
In Walking Away Simon Armitage swaps the moorland uplands of the north for the coastal fringes of Britain's south west, once again giving readings every night, but this time through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, taking poetry into distant communities and tourist hot-spots, busking his way from start to finsh.
From the surreal pleasuredome of Minehead Butlins to a smoke-filled roundhouse on the Penwith Peninsula then out to the Isles of Scilly and beyond, Armitage tackles this personal Odyssey with all the poetic reflection and personal wit we've come to expect of one of Britain's best loved and most popular writers.
In 2010, Simon Armitage – poet, author and university lecturer - set out to walk the Pennine Way… in the opposite direction from the way it's normally walked, walking from Scotland back to the village in which he was born. As a comparison to that inland walk, he decided in 2013 that he would walk again, this time in the South of the country using the South West Coast path from Minehead in Somerset to the Isles of Scilly at the southern-most point of England.
Starting his walk on Tuesday 27 August he is joined by various people on each section - some he knew (including, on a couple of occasions, his wife Sue) and some complete strangers who had read about the walk and wanted to join him. On his way he passes various points of interest including the church where the poet Sir John Betjemen is buried, Godrevy Lighthouse, the view of which inspired Virginia Woolf to write the novel To the Lighthouse and a plaque commemorating World War One poet Lawrence Binyon, who wrote 'For the Fallen', the poem from which the famous lines:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
are taken, which he wrote whilst overlooking the sea in Cornwall.
In order to pay for his food and accommodation, his evenings are spent performing his poetry in a variety of establishments – from large private houses to crowded seaside pubs – and at the end of each performance a sock is passed round to enable the audience to give money… if they think he's worth it!
I'm not very familiar with Simon Armitage's poems – there are two or three poems in the book that he wrote about his trip – I really liked the one at the end Legends of the Crossings, about a river that obstructed him at one point.
I was looking forward to reading this book because, although I haven't walked the Coastal Path myself, I know quite a lot of the towns he stopped in along the way. I found it to be a bit repetitive on occasions and it felt as though his heart wasn't really in it. It was almost as though he just did the walk so that he could write a book at the end of it but didn't really have any enthusiasm for his task. That’s not to say I didn't enjoy it – I did – but I have read more animated travel books. This hasn't put me off reading Walking Home if I come across it on my travels – maybe he'll be more animated on his home turf.
Thanks to Kay for the loan of the book.
The paperback edition is 276 pages long and is published by Faber & Faber. It was first published in 2015. The ISBN is 9780571298365.
3/5 (I liked it)
(Finished 10 January 2017)