The subtitle of this book is Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way. It’s really the perfect book for me, concerned with two of my most longstanding interests – poetry and walking, or rambling if you like.
Simon Armitage is a great poet with a unique and interesting voice and a very broad appeal. I’ve taught many of his poems to classes of teenagers, and of course there’s no better way of getting to know a work of literature than teaching it. Despite occasional ingrained resistance, his poetry has nearly always captured the interest of students with its offbeat humour, its unusual, indeed idiosyncratic approach to rhyme, the easy use of colloquial language, and its contemporary relevance.
I love hiking, and walking the Pennine Way is a long time ambition of mine, one I am unlikely ever to achieve at this stage of life due to the ravages of age. It was the first English long distance path covering perhaps 270 miles of the harshest and most unforgiving walking in the country. If you don’t live in our glorious green island you won’t be aware of the terrible conditions that can set in on the peaks and moors of northern England. They may not be high, but are frequently subject to appalling wind and rain and regularly buried deep in fog and mist; they are bleak and featureless, and navigation can be very challenging.
Well – to the book! Armitage wanted to see if he could earn his keep – room and food that is – by reading poems at each of the night stops on the trip down the backbone of the country. The book is the story of that attempt, and consists of a series of chapters, each dealing with one day, or one section of the walk, and one evening’s reading and entertainment. Of course there are digressions into Armitage’s personal history, as well as others of a more general nature, though these are not that extensive and the main burden of the book is the walk itself.
Now walking the Pennine Way is a pretty repetitive activity, with one day pretty much the same as the next: despite this, Armitage does quite a good job of maintaining the interest of the reader. What kept me going was my interest in the walk itself, and the quiet, easy tone of the book. I’ve seen Armitage perform on several occasions, so it was quite easy for me to pick up the voice of the author as I read, and the tone of the whole thing is relaxed, intimate – or as intimate as you’d like to be with a complete stranger – straightforward and informative.
If you’re ever planning to walk the Pennine Way, or would like to experience it vicariously without ever stepping a foot on the moors or donning an uncomfortable waterproof jacket, then this is definitely the book for you.