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Archive for April, 2011

Station Road and Boundary Road are actually the same street. As I understand it, as far as Portslade is concerned it is Station Road but from a Hove point of view it is the Boundary. Or it could be the other way round.

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It was pretty empty on a sunny Bank Holiday morning. I have known this street as long as I can remember, and have noticed many changes. In recent years cafes and eating places have proliferated along with an ethnic mix unknown back in the days of the Wimpy Bar and Bistro Edward. (Having said that there was a Russian restaurant for a while in a side street.)
I had a coffee in Sami Swoi, one of a chain (I think) named after a Polish comedy film. (On the menu it translates it as ‘All of Us’.) Then for old times’ sake I walked down one side and up the other, crossing and recrossing ‘boundary’ and ‘station’, between the names.

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Some spiritual writers refer to ‘thin places’ – where the dividing line between the ordinary and the sacred is permeable. ‘Celtic’ sites such as Lindisfarne are frequently-used examples. For me Boundary Road is exactly that kind of liminal place, though I would struggle to provide and evidence. Although… this is the place where one finds the headquarters of The Fifth Element – aether, the Quintessence, the pure substance breathed by the gods themselves, beyond change – sited next to ‘grace’. Maybe that counts.

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‘It was a good day to start something – fresh blue sky, a rainwashed town, smell of new air’ I wrote, back in January 2008, on the first day of this walk. Today was to be the last day and once again the sky was blue. Instead of after-rain freshness there was the scent of another hot day in a run of hot days, still cool but promising scorching long hours. It was Easter Monday.

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I put on the boots I have worn for the whole journey, still spattered in Sussex mud. Blessed on my way at the doorstep by both mother and wife, I hiked on past the rowan trees of the street I was raised on. Since 1969 I have walked this was hundreds, maybe thousands of times – to play with other kids; walk to school, college, work; walk over to pubs in Hove to see my friends. Every version of me walks this route.

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The Old Village High Street. If all identically-named streets are connected in some way, this street links to thousands of others, including some with rather different characters, such as Edinburgh’s ‘Royal Mile’.

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Cracks on curiously-sited tourism display reveal arcane epicentre – some Hove hellmouth perhaps.

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The Old Village – the big building was a brewery but has been a factory for several decades. I have read that a Canadian soldier brought a bren gun down from the roof and shot a local man during the war.

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Twitten (‘alley’) between the infants’ and junior schools I attended. Where the fence is now used to be railings, where the padlock that holds the world together used to be. (This was a giant padlock someone fixed to a rail in about 1973. It fascinated some of us from the school and many of us tried to get it off. No-one did and it was there until last year, sometimes with a tiny weed growing from the lock. On visits home I would always walk down here and give it a rub, for luck or something like it.)

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Once again I ran down the slope to Victoria Park, where I read my way through the science fiction shelves of the adjacent Portslade Library. Happy days of The Atrocity Exhibition and Dead Fingers Talk. No trees in those days.

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Sign without a signifier – but you can add your own.

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Path beneath the railway, with licensed graffiti. Ground-up lighting gives this tunnel a slightly spooky air, applying a Karloffian look to the most harmless individual.

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Following the twitten-route beside the back of Tesco – an ancient right-of-way, still with some flint wall. Apartments with balconies have appeared fairly recently suggesting some kind of gentrification project. Maybe one of my other selves has breakfast on one of those balconies.

And so I arrived back where I left off walking, back in February, rejoining that version of myself and getting ready for the final walk.

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I hope to finish the final leg of this walk soon, so now seems like a good time to look over some of the ground that has been covered. Starting in January 2008, I have walked from Southport Pier to Boundary Road on the edge of Hove, in 42 sections. The shortest of these was around a mile crossing Liverpool, the longest 25 miles in Bucks. All that remains to do is the last few miles to Brighton Pier. The total distance covered will have been around 225 miles. A five-hour journey by car or train, which we have made so frequently that it has become routine, has been expanded into a three-year odyssey, full of mundane wonders.

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Constructing my own Long Distance Path as I went along, I have joined up my birthtown with the place I live now. Along the way I have walked along roads, paths, canals, rivers, bridleways, green lanes and, latterly, a couple of twittens. Like a rambling Dr Frankenstein I’ve stitched together a route from whatever material came to hand. Bits of official routes, named after Monarchs, Jubilees, Pilgrims, the Thames, the Downs (North and South) and so on, have been hotwired with more obscure footpaths to produce the lurching creature that is my unique journey.

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A desire path to McDonalds


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My personal waypoints have included places I’ve lived (Wolverhampton, Stourbridge, Dudley) or that have some meaning to me, such as Mentmore, former home of grandparents and site of childhood holidays. I have woven the journey around motorways, travelling over, under and alongside the M6, the M40 (for its entire length) and the M25. Occasionally I have climbed banks to peak at the traffic. That might not have been a badger that you saw…

The walking has become part of my identity, or rather an idea of walking. ‘Did you go walking at the weekend?’ people ask at work. This question always makes me feel oddly uneasy, as if I am letting people down if I haven’t been tramping through the Peak District swathed in GoreTex. In fact, this walk has involved few noted beauty spots and I’m just as likely to have been circumnavigating a sewage farm on the outskirts of a dormitory suburb in the Home Counties. Which is not to say there hasn’t been beauty of the unexpected kind – wading waist deep through crops, finding a dead station, the cloistered cool of a motorway underpass, lost-alphabet graffiti, hidden meadows and underwater art…

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Liverpool Loop alphabet

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Stafford to Wolverhampton

I have walked beside canals that have silted up, through paths overgrown with nettles, on a railway sinking into mud.


All the time, unsuspected by me, my own internal channels were become occluded, arteries hardening with atherosclerosis. The treatment for this involved new bypass routes for blood and oxygen being created, skilled handiwork in a hospital right next to the route. The scope of my walking was reduced, initially to crossing the ward with ‘tottering old-man steps’, soon to five- and ten-minute excursions. After three months I was able to resume the interrupted journey.

As well as the walk itself, there have been some sidetrips, including the now-famous exploration of non-existent Argleton as discovered by Mike Nolan. The Argleton post has had tens of thousands of views, whereas the unreliable travelogues I normally produce notch up mere tens. Bizarrely, it led to press articles and radio appearances, whilst Argleton has acquired a status as a minor myth, spawning at least one book and various websites.

And now it is nearly done. The route bisects the country like an extended Boundary Road. I have worn out a pair of boots, though they are still serviceable. Currently they are standing on my parents’ patio, outside the back door, waiting for me to put them on for last miles of this trip.

However this won’t be my last travel-and-writing project. Brighton Pier will be a lingam fertilising the ocean of possibility to create my next Quixotic quest… watch this space.

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