Walker, moutaineer, historian, or just interested in the great outdoors? This book has something for you. It was a Christmas present from one of my wife’s sisters, some years ago, and has been sitting on the shelf until now. I picked it up as a light alternative to the rather disturbing piece of fiction I finished last week. And I’m so glad I did.
This guide is intended as just that; an introduction to and a planning tool for a coast to coast walk from the west to east shores of northern England. John Gillham makes it clear from the start that you need to procure more detailed maps than the illustrative drawings he supplies alongside the text, if you are to complete this varied ramble through some of our finest landscapes.
There are mountains, vales, rivers and moors to cross on this varied route. And Gillham brings them all to life, adding small panels of local history where applicable. The reader learns some fascinating facts along the way, and is entertained with rural humour. He gives tips about various villages, pubs, bothies and ancient monuments. He also provides alternative routes, catering for the less experienced walker as well as the proper mountaineers.
For me, this was a trip back to a pleasant past. The walk starts in the Lake District, where my wife and I spent our honeymoon, and brought back many happy memories of those days. The middle section takes the reader through an area of England not much visited and one that I do not yet know. But the last part of the walk, as it approaches the north eastern coast, involves a walk through Hexham where, before we were married, we were mistaken for hotel inspectors at the hostelry we’d chosen for our meeting. Needless to say, the service and food were excellent on that occasion! The route passes Rothbury, where we dined together at another time in our early relationship. Unfortunately, on that occasion, I contracted food poisoning that resulted in the most horrendous drive back down to the Essex town where I then lived. It passes through Clennel Street, close by Clennel Hall, where we stayed very early in our relationship and confirmed that we would spend the rest of our lives together. So, another pleasant reminder. And, in fact, as a result of reading the book, we’re now intending to do some parts of the walk.
I’m well past the days when I can contemplate tackling such an arduous walk as a complete exercise, but, because John Gillham breaks it up into smaller parts, we’ll definitely be hiking several parts of it over the coming years. And I give my thanks to him for mapping out this route through some of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery in this small island of ours.
The photographs that illustrate the walk are all excellent; some merely informative, but many reflecting the beauty of the landscape and giving a clear idea of what the walker can expect to see along the way. I look forward to visiting these places with my wife and my camera in the near future.
The final part of the book is a diary, kept by John’s new wife, Nicola. This is a charming, personal account of her trip with him as he mapped out the routes he suggests. It gives a touching insight into the loving relationship between the couple and provides a more intimate view of both the pleasures and hardships that the walker may encounter along the way. I enjoyed this short piece every bit as much as the main narrative.
So, whether you’re a seasoned walker, a sometime rambler, or one of those tourists who rarely moves more than a few paces from your car, there’s something in this book for you. I picked it up as a contrast to the gritty and disturbing fiction of urban poverty that I’d read previously. As an antidote, it was perfect, and I thoroughly recommend it.