I can’t help thinking that the literary editor is having a little chuckle to himself, in his own private way, as he hands me Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way to review. What he knows is that, for my sins, I have never been anywhere near the Pennine Way, the long stretch that runs from Edale, Derbyshire, to Kirk Yetholm on the Scottish border. And yet here it is in my hand, a travel diary of sorts, dedicated to Simon Armitage’s 2010 sweaty ramble ‘backwards’ from the Scottish end to his hometown, Marsden, situated near its beginning.
He sallies forth in drafting a comparison between his mission and that of Sir Gawain, whose story he translated so fantastically some years back. But Sir Gawain can arm himself for combat in less than three verses. Spreading his skin with Avon Skin So Soft, ‘the repellent of choice not only with foresters and trawlermen, but also with British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, apparently’, and strapping on his luggage takes Armitage a rather unheroic hour. Perhaps his walk is more of an Odyssean nostos…. He’s onto a losing battle there, too, and he knows it. Never does Armitage miss an opportunity to send up what he realizes can only ever be construed as pure folly, but is obviously, to him, really quite defining.“
‘Hardraw is England’s highest waterfall, highest only in the sense that it is the highest above ground, apparently, a distinction I can’t really begin to understand, though not something which unduly troubled Wordsworth when he visited here…With Wordsworth having already left his literary stamp on the place, and having already splurged on waterfall superlatives at High Force a couple of days ago, I decide to give it a miss…’