“I’ve started, so I’ll finish” in the words of Magnus Magnusson. Or, in my case, I’ve started and I have no idea what will happen. To be explicit, I launched myself just over a week ago on the first stage of my coast to coast peregrination (a much underused word) to the sounds of cannon fire from Fort Perch Rock, New Brighton and nostalgic banter from old university chums who could and should have done more to dissuade me from this foolishness.
Funny how the memories of the pain of previous lengthy walks have faded over the years, permitting me to set off with an innocent sense of optimism, only to be dashed within a few hours. They say, don’t they, that this is what enables women to give birth more than once, or football supporters to turn up at the beginning of each season?
Arguably, if Jo Brand can manage the trip in one go into a headwind for charitable purposes, I ought to be able to make a fist of it — though she is a bit younger and had a team to carry her essential supplies, like phone charger and defibrillator. It would be handy if I could bring myself to rely on my phone for navigational purposes but I invariably saddle myself with good old maps which can double as a sail in high winds.
In brief, I made it during last week from the Wirral coast as far as Sale in Greater Manchester, arriving with two badly bruised big toes, both of which were mine. It felt like more than two but I’ll settle for two.
The walk is clearly doing me good…
A volunteer podiatrist of my acquaintance nobly attacked said toenails with the scariest looking clippers and released (health warning: the next bit is not for the faint hearted) a barrel load of “exudate” while this Blog bit down on a sock and another friend talked incessantly in a vain effort to distract me. I have now disposed of those walking shoes to a good cause and will need to invest in new footwear that’s more disposed to bat for Team Blog.
I’m not always the best patient when it comes to toenails…
The rucksack, discovered in the loft and of no known parentage, has also been consigned to history (Blogdaughter thinks it may have been loaned by a former swain of hers – do they still have swains? — who has equally been archived). To be precise, the rucksack consigned itself to the great recycling skip in the sky by dint of coming apart at the seams even faster than me.
The weather wasn’t the best. Sorry, is this sounding like a moan? Well, you don’t want to hear that everything was hunky dory…
Ok, just room for one more grumble. Along a disused railway line that forms part of the Transpennine Trail they’ve constructed what I believe are called squeeze stiles designed to block motor bikes but permit access for walkers and cyclists, provided the latter dismount. But if you stand more than 5 foot six tall with a rucksack on your back, you’re obliged either to take it off and carry it past the constriction or lower yourself with back straight and rucksack in situ in a kind of limbo motion. Now, most of my moving parts have seen better days: admittedly there’s a left knee that has only nine years on the clock and a right hip that’s just 18 months old, but there are some distinctly dodgy elements upstream and downstream. I don’t know about you but the last time I had knees that coped with that kind of manoeuvre, kipper ties were in fashion and we still had a welfare state.
And another thing – just one more grumble at this point, if I may. Plenty of time for others later. What I say is this: footpath signs (and road signs for that matter) should be put up for the benefit of people who don’t know the area, rather than just where the sign person feels very confident. So, if I’m walking along a very narrow coastal path with the sea to one side and a near vertical cliff on the other, I don’t really need to see repeater signs telling me that the route continues straight ahead. Chances are I’d have just guessed, the alternatives being unappetising. Where I do need them is when I reach a point where there’s a genuine choice to be made. It’s not enough that locals can inform you that “everyone knows you should ignore that sign, it doesn’t lead anywhere.” With the coastal paths that I’ve slogged round in the past, like the Pembrokeshire Coast Path or the South West Coast Path, you could always chant “sea on right” when in doubt and usually not go too far wrong, but I’m not sure how that works when you’re going from Liverpool to Hull.
My first few days were enriched by the company of former university friends and ex-colleagues. It would be unwise to alienate them at this stage, so I’ll avoid making reference to any similarity to Last of the Summer Wine and the need for a bathtub on wheels to complete the image.
The week’s high spots included a rain and windswept ferry crossing of the Mersey (altogether now, sing…)
…followed by visits to the national wildflower centre, a community bakery and regeneration scheme in Anfield, a group tour of the 1930s Mersey road tunnel, the anti-slavery exhibition at Liverpool’s Albert Dock (we agreed that we were all opposed), the Everyman Theatre and the Manchester marathon to support a friend from Sussex (PB in 2 hours 29 mins 30 secs, since you ask, which counts as serious running in my book.)
I visited Warrington’s Museum of the History of Policing in Cheshire. Mrs. Blog helpfully texted me as I went round, querying whether my expectations of displays on the rich heritage of kettling, the fitting up of known villains with suitable “evidence” and the casualty rates associated with highspeed car chases were being fulfilled. As it happens, not. The whole thing was a joy, being shown round an informative and professionally presented exhibition by two enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable volunteers and taking the opportunity to dress up both as Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley and in full armed response gear. Magic.
I had tickets for Liverpool’s game at Anfield against Stoke City with Mrs. Blog. Nice to see that the “humour” of away fans is safely ensconced in the 1980s, based seemingly on one joke – that of Merseysiders being unemployed. (And this from Stoke supporters…) Unable or unwilling to come up with a nice song to sing, away fans contented themselves with booing and offering what I believe is termed “a trembling wrist gesture” towards the home supporters. Once behind, they fell silent and most had left their seats well before the end of the game. ATMOSPHERE!! You miss all this on telly.
You just can’t beat friendly banter between rival supporters
We took in a good number of excellent Liverpool pubs, winning the quiz one night by knowing that James Dean died in 1955 and that Mumps station is in Oldham. (It helps when one of your team writes excellently researched non-fiction sports books as a pastime and another was once BBC Radio Brain of Britain.)
I ate scouse for the first time in a while – it’s a meat stew before it’s a language, and a childhood favourite of mine. (Unless it’s near the end of the month and the money’s run out, in which case it’s blind scouse and there’s no meat.)
Blind scouse, nouvelle cuisine style
Also to my intense joy, I came across Linda’s burger van sited at the entrance to Warrington sewage works and waste recycling site which offered “Red Hot Spam on Toast”, plus ketchup and free read of The Sun, which this Blog was never going to pass by. Eat your heart out, Gwyneth Paltrow.
This Blog plans to convert all these inspirational bon mots into a book when (if?) he makes it to the North Sea but is currently short of a suitable title. Suggestions please, which will be enthusiastically featured in future blogs. So far, to demonstrate my current poverty of imagination, I have come up with the following, none of which quite does the trick, I think you’ll agree:
The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions
Scouse, Slavery and Suffragettes (which will feature later on the walk, but a tad serious?)
Getting my Twix en route; 66 (it’s kind of a pun, and I’m 66)
Hull hath no Fury (Billy Fury’s from Liverpool, not Hull – ok?)
This Blog intends to be back in harness and rucksack shortly for stage 2 of the great trek through Greater Manchester. Many thanks to all who have sponsored me by donating to the British Heart Foundation. Please see the link below – plenty more time to contribute!