Tag Archives: Simon Armitage

William Wordsworth and Richard Holmes

I introduced Simon Armitage and his record of walking the Pennine Way delivering poetry readings each night to locals, in his book Walking Home, in an earlier posting Walking Home-the Pennine Way.   Walking is so interesting but then so is reading.  So now that I have finished reading Armitage’s book, I want to share a couple of pieces of information previously unknown to me:

“Wordsworth was the poet-walker par excellence. “Writing about Wordsworth’s legs, his friend Thomas de Quincy once remarked ‘undoubtedly they had been serviceable legs beyond the average standard of human requisition; for I calculate, upon good data, that with these identical legs Wordsworth must have traversed a distance of 175 to 185,000 English miles.’… Even in later life. A five-mile round trip to the hardware store or a twenty-mile perambulation was hardly a rare occurrence, but these distances should be viewed as a gradual slowing down considering the marathons of his youth, most notably in 1790 when instead of revising for his exams at Cambridge he went walkabout in the French Alps  with his friend Robert Jones. They covered three hundred miles in two weeks …”

Armitage also refers to Richard Holmes who as an eighteen year old produced a new form of travel writing.  Apparently he donned a felt hat and walked in “the footsteps and hoofprints of Robert Louis Stevenson and his troublesome donkey from Le Monastier to St Jean-du-Gard in 1878, a walk of 220 kilometres through the ‘French Highlands’, which Stevenson completed in under a fortnight.”

The first piece of travel writing?

Simon Armitage, in his book Walking Home (Faber & Faber 2012), put modern day walking projects into perspective when he looked back into history to find the earliest record of something similar.

He settled on an account written around 700-800 B.C., titled The Odyssey about Odysseus (Ulysses) the King of the island of Ithaca off the west coast of Greece, who took a decade to travel a comparatively short distance back home after fighting the Trojan war in Troy.  This was a sea voyage; not a walking trip. Nevertheless I can understand Armitage’s choice because Homer has been described as ‘the best story teller in the world’ (E.V.Rieu, 1980, Homer The Odyssey, Penguin Books.

Sculpture of Homer

(Above: a marble bust of Homer displayed in the collection of the British Museum. Apparently, this sculpture was carved in the first or second century A.D in Italy.)

Simon Armitage says ‘The Odyssey is one of the greatest works of western literature, and also one of the earliest, a sort of bedrock or foundation on which many subsequent stories are built. In what could also be described as one of the first pieces of travel writing, The Odyssey is presented as a poem, written by Homer, who may or may not have existed, and tells the tale of Odysseus’s exhausting and beleaguered return from battle.’

Through subsequent centuries, Homer’s work inspired others to write both fictional and documentary style travel stories. You can read a translation of his epic at http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html. If you want an entertaining crash course in the story, try viewing:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS4jk5kavy4

For a bit of fun for those who learn visually, you can interact with a map of Odysseus’s possible travels at: http://www.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/homer/index.php?page=odymap

Walking Home-the Pennine Way

During Tasmania’s current winter days I am using my time to read books with a travel theme, and mostly those involving a significant walk.  These books both inform and inspire me so that I eagerly look forward to the warmer spring weather when I will be able to continue walking to the source of the Derwent River.

I am thankful some local followers of my blog have alerted me to titles and, in some cases, loaned me their books. Thanks to Ma, my current read is Simon Armitage’s book Walking Home (Faber & Faber 2012).

Walking Home Simon Armitage

In this easy-to-read record, Armitage offers anecdotes and describes his reaction to the walk, the dramatic terrain, the endlessly misty, ferociously windy and inclement weather, the people who walked with him on occasion, the animals, and much more. Through his very entertaining writing style I have come to understand the 256 mile long Pennine Way in England via each step he took as he tramped from the northern to the southern end during 19 days of continuous walking.

The logistics of this walk were well-researched and involved pre-arranged poetry readings each night when he reached each day’s destination in villages, farm cottages, churches, people’s houses, hotels and all manner of other buildings. One of his dry unused walking socks was handed around at the end of each reading and the audience was asked to contribute funds. Simon set out to survive only on the income he could generate in this way. He was so well received that around the journey’s half way point, his wife and daughter came and relieved him of a heavy weight of coins: at the same time they took away a load of very wet and muddy clothes.

I live in a part of the world where rain is not so common, and impenetrable mist is rarely a feature. By contrast, when in summer Simon Armitage walked the higher hills and ridges of the Pennine Way, they were often shrouded in mist and, when the tracks sometimes petered out Simon, would lose his way for a while, become thoroughly drenched and, while trying not to become demoralised, persist in finding his way even if unnecessary miles were covered.  This was an arduous adventure taken one step at a time and I felt a real sense of joy coming from the author as he met each challenge, and as the miles passed. He became both physically and mentally stronger.

Whether or not, you enjoy walking, if you like to be carried along by a book and feel an immense sense of pleasure from reading something which is well written, then add Walking Home to your wish list for reading material. This book made me laugh and certainly lifted my spirits.