Mark Mason

Funny things happen on the way to the Scillies

Simon Armitage’s self-deprecation makes for a charming, funny account of plodding through too many combes on the South West Coast Path

It’s a real skill, writing about a journey where nothing ever happens. We shouldn’t be surprised that Simon Armitage is so good at it: he’s a poet, and therefore used to reporting on nothing happening, or rather spotting the little things that are always happening but the rest of us are too busy to notice. His chosen route this time — the South West Coast Path through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and on to the Scillies — is normally praised because it gets you away from everything. Yet while he’s there Armitage discovers … well, maybe not everything, but certainly a very entertaining book’s worth of stuff.

His schtick is the same as last time (Walking Home, in which he covered the Pennine Way): he funds his walk by giving daily poetry readings at which he collects donations from the audience in a sock. Inevitably the haul include things other than money — a feather, an ‘I’m an Avenger’ lick ’n’ stick transfer, a bullet, a plastic badger and, inconveniently on a day when he’s been joined by his wife, a

message from someone called Naomi who is looking forward to intercepting me en route, though the card it’s written on is the type usually pinned on a wreath … ‘Maybe it’s you that should be worried, not me,’ she says.

After the interval at another reading the organiser asks Armitage: ‘Shall I introduce you again, in case people have forgotten who you are?’

The imagery is as impressive as you’d expect from a seasoned poet. Rubbish on a beach includes ‘deflated inflatables’, a church ‘feels like a space set aside, an enclosed otherness’, while boulders lie ‘half buried in the cliff face, bulging from their sockets, some like popping eyes, some like embedded embryos or eggs about to hatch’.

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