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.
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.
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…
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.