It’s midnight, and I’m looking up at a signpost.
The best way to see England is on foot. (The second best way? Ask Sustrans). It’s a country designed to fit your feet, whether via the National Trail network or by those enticing mystery dashed lines you see winding their way into the trees at the fringes of your Ordnance Survey Landranger. You’re not meant to go from A to B – you’re supposed to dabble with the rest of the alphabet. This is why English people of a certain age will argue until they’re blue in the face about the ‘quickest route’ for a stranger to get somewhere. What they really mean is their favourite route – and everyone has a different one, because England can accomodate that.
At midnight on the 23rd of August I’m in Hornsea, my childhood home on East Yorkshire’s coastline. I’ve wandered along the sea-front, tweeting fitfully and plucking at memories, until I’ve reached the Marine Hotel and a sheer concrete wall to the upper promenade I clearly remember being too nervous to climb, which I can now scale by jumping, grabbing the rail and pulling myself up. (It’s such a contrast that I feel I have someone else’s memory). The clouds are low enough to turn to mist, fogging the streetlights and giving the ruinous amusement arcades the look of a heavily anti-aliased Pripyat.
Then I’m at the end of the old railway line, the one that connected Hornsea with Hull until Doctor Beeching swung his axe. The disused train station is long gone, and replaced with an enormous paved compass, pointing westwards – specifically, at Southport, on the other side of the country.
I walk the first mile of it.
From here, the Trail winds over the Wolds and down towards Sheffield, splitting in either direction to provide secondary routes for the weekend-tripper (one of which is up to York, via the whole Solar System)….
…and finally, on the main route, reaching Southport on the west coast, 20 miles north of Liverpool.
When Barbara of Hole In The Donut Travels came to York a few months back, I was startled to learn she hadn’t arrived via London. Because all too often, that’s the England visitors see. I’m not knocking London (it’s a fascinating place) but it’s not a synonym for England. The England I love best, that gets me scanning maps with what I can only describe as geographic lust, is that of hill and dale and moor and backwater trail – and the best ways to find these are by taking the great trans-England walking routes so beloved by folk like Wainwright (who even devised his own coast to coast walk)…
Striding along these great Ways isn’t just an effective method for seeing (and feeling) England – it’s also a great way to say goodbye to it. Since my plans revolve around seeing the rest of the world, a couple of final, epic walks sometime soon are an attractive prospect.
And the symbolism of starting the last of them from my childhood home?
- The official Trans Pennine Trail homepage
- Walking Britain: tons of ideas here, complete with detailed breakdowns of walks and some (sadly quite small) photos of what you can expect to see.
- The Ramblers Society is a good jumping-off point for the basics.
- It is absolutely impossible to read this book and not have twitchy feet. That’s you warned.