Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk

Nother Soles_FINAL Cover Proof (5)

Blog 79:

Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk

Regular followers of this blog will know that it undertook a 200 mile sponsored walk in 2016 from Mersey to Humber as the basis for a book, initially titled “The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions!” but published last month as “Northern Soles”.

The dedication reads:

To the charity volunteers and staff striving to save the social and environmental soul of your communities. The nation owes you thanks. To all of you this book is dedicated.


The cover and content carry kind words of support from: Polly Toynbee, Journalist and writer on social affairs:

This delightful road trip from Liverpool to Hull takes us along the way through history and present day, from industrial revolution to good works, art works, environmental wonders and remarkable people. Exploring multitudes of unknown highways and byways, Steve Ankers’ journey bristles with insights into how we live now and how history shapes our present and our future


From Helen Pankhurst, international development and women’s rights activist:

“Travel writing with good humour and a welcome attention to issues of equality and social justice”

From Fiona Reynolds, Environmental campaigner and writer: I so enjoyed this witty, somewhat serendipitous adventure led by our guide from Liverpool to Hull; and enriched by memories, encounters with stalwarts of the voluntary sector that is the beating heart of England, and enlivened by the truth that walking in the countryside isn’t always the sublime experience it’s cracked up to be. Do read it.


From travel writer Mark Elliott:

“… a wisecracking travelogue, liberally peppered with British rain, bunions and endlessly curious factoids from the recipe of ‘blind scouse’ to how Adam Ant found his stage name in a Liverpool urinal.



 If all this sounds a bit too serious, then I’m misleading you. Pl see this flyer for a neater summary.

Northern Soles by Steve Ankers (1) (1).pdf


 And thank you to all those whose who supported me on the walk and in the writing. Many of you kindly sponsored me along the way for the British Heart Foundation. We made it!  If you enjoy what you see, pl feel free to give wider circulation!


Meanwhile, I have just embarked on a very different journey of which the outcome is less certain. Having been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in the last few weeks, I will have a battle on my hands and am very lucky to enjoy the total love and support of my family and a wide network of friends and colleagues. If fortune permits, I look forward to blogging successful progress! Fingers crossed!


Up the Creek with a Paddle Steamer


Mrs Blog’s grandfather, with help from a lot of other people, built ships on the River Clyde. He was a riveter on the Queen Mary (the 1930s art deco version, currently doing time with no remission as a heritage experience in California). I know this because Blogfamily spent some hours a few years ago on board the beached liner searching for Grandad’s rivets.

When Mrs Blog informed me this year that her mum had, when young, worked on the Waverley, the last seagoing paddle steamer, I was naturally keen to hunt down her rivets in search of any inherited family “style”. This turned out to be a misunderstanding: Mrs Blogmum had indeed worked on the Waverley “doon the watter” but as a waitress.

That was good enough for me and this month, after a pleasant meal the previous evening with Blogdaughter at the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, saw the two of us boarding the Waverley for a day’s excursion on the Thames estuary.

While Mrs Blog has, in what she refers to as early middle age, taken something of a shine to cruising, she likes to see her ships furnished with stabilisers or whatever it is that reduces her propensity to share her lunch with the sea and the gulls. Hence the Thames for our excursion rather than, say, the storm-tossed Outer Hebrides.

This notwithstanding, Mrs B was clutching a double dose of Stugeron as we boarded at Tower Pier and I could only hope that she would be less than fully comatose for the day. Her four extra layers of clothing provided reassurance that – in the event of the captain inadvertently taking us into Arctic waters – she, for one, would survive any recourse to the life rafts.

Finding there was nobody to transfer our bags to our cabin – indeed, no cabin – we started to plan our day and looked forward to joining the captain at his table for a black-tie dinner, no doubt after an exhausting day at the onboard casino and art auction. Unlike our last shipboard experience, we received no drill to guide our response to attacks by Somali pirates. We could only assume that the captain’s laissez faire approach to security wouldn’t come back to bite us.

The day got off to a gorgeously sunny start with a full complement of passengers jostling for the best viewpoints as we passed under Tower Bridge, gazing up at the people who gazed down at us through the bridge’s glass bottomed walkway.

An excellent commentary as we passed downstream, taking in familiar parts of the city from an unfamiliar angle – Greenwich, the O2, the Emirates Airway —  was only marginally impacted by one group of passengers totally occupied in sharing their latest, fascinating office gossip at a full shout with no apparent interest in their surroundings.

Being obsessively and nerdishly geographical by birth and nurture I needed to follow our journey with the aid of a map – a real one, not a pretend one on a screen. This meant I had been faced with an awful dilemma. The best map I could find which would cover the whole journey was my national road atlas, cost £2.99 in 2008. For me to tear the two relevant pages from the atlas to take with me caused the kind of pain that only a fellow sufferer can understand.

We passed Tilbury docks on our left (I’m still learning to say “port”) side. It wasn’t possible to establish just where Queen Elizabeth 1 (not the ship) had made her “body of a weak and feeble woman” speech to the assembled troops in 1588 during one of our periodic tiffs with mainland Europe. One must assume that she perched on a stack of steel containers for maximum effect and to avoid any prankster handing her a P45.

We parked, if that’s the correct term, at the very end of Southend pier. This blog has long been a fan of piers – devised of course so that the English might feel they could safely put to sea without the unwelcome prospect of encountering the French. Piers are designed so they can be readily torched when the owner has brought the insurance up to date and is short of ready cash. Fires have occurred several times in Southend pier’s history but inconclusively, and it still stands today as the longest pleasure pier in the world.

The moving parts of the Waverley are clearly on display, both internal and external, and one doesn’t need to be into Meccano or car maintenance to appreciate the simple majesty and beauty of the wheels and pistons in motion.

It transpired that this jewel of Scottish engineering is the mark 2 version of the Waverley built in 1946, the original having been sunk by enemy action off Dunkirk in 1940 while evacuating troops.

While constantly and lovingly maintained in working order, unfortunately our Waverley experienced a minor boiler problem and suffered delay at Southend sufficient to mean that our intended hour ashore at Whitstable was cancelled.  Our planned “teacakes with strawberry jam and oysters” treat must await another day.

As our trip was to be almost the Waverley’s final journey of 2017, the crew were keen to urge our attendance at the onboard shop to seize the opportunity to buy overpriced wine gums, repackaged in a tiny Waverley plastic bag. We bought Waverley branded chocolate oranges “as Christmas presents for Scottish relatives”, then ate them.

The captain sounded Scottish and reassuring, the east European crew and catering staff were attentive and efficient, Sunday roast was excellent, Mrs Blog held hers down and a sluggish afternoon’s cruise back up the river was enlivened as night fell and the lights came up romantically on the Dartford crossing, the Thames barrage and Canary Wharf.

Mrs B felt that the toilets could usefully have been brought forward into the second half of the 20th century, especially with the sound of all that running water bringing its own issues. “Caite bheil an taigh beag?” as she put it so succinctly.


 The Waverley in her natural habitat



“Forever for Everyone” says the National Trust


Visiting posh houses on Sunday afternoon was what we did when I was little, along with castles and ruined abbeys. Seeing where the monks sat in a line to move their bowels was great if you were a child but I never really got into all that furniture and porcelain. And you always saw it from behind a rope – no fun at all. In later years I didn’t take my own family to National Trust places very often as we had a dog that needed a lot of exercise so we spent any free time at weekends meeting her needs – and she wasn’t really into porcelain in a big way either. Only when the old Labrador died and our day jobs tapered down a bit did we get round to joining the Trust as members: this is what I guess the marketing people would call the “dead dog” marketing segment.

Two “fascinating facts” from the Trust’s website which I’m happy to share. Over 43% of the rainwater in England and Wales drains through a NT property, but fortunately not always the same one. And gravity was invented by Isaac Newton in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire in 1665 on what is now NT land.

Never one for half measures, as soon as I became a member of the Trust, I signed up with them as a volunteer — to serve on a committee on the grounds that you can never have enough committee meetings. I’m pleased to see that my recollection of old houses of the rich being saved for the nearly rich to savour is no longer the be all and end all of the Trust’s mission.

The name of Octavia Hill comes up on a regular basis as one of the Trust’s founders back in 1895. (Not enough people are christened Octavia these days, if you ask me.) As concise tributes go, it would be difficult to improve on these words from the website of her birthplace museum in Wisbech: “Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was a woman ahead of her time. An artist and a radical, she was a pioneer of affordable housing and can be seen as the founder of modern social work.” Which isn’t a bad way to be remembered.

This was not a woman, I’m inclined to think, who would have wanted me to peer at boring old porcelain from long range as some form of punishment for not eating up my peas at Sunday lunch. This was someone who clearly wanted me to have a good time, climbing trees, poking about in Victorian kitchens and dressing up as an undertaker’s mute. Now that’s worth conserving stuff for.

If you’re passing nearby, as Mrs Blog and I did recently, do visit Wisbech and the Octavia Hill house. You can’t but feel in awe of someone who broke free of the shackles traditionally imposed on Victorian women and made a difference.

From Wisbech to King’s Lynn and more fine buildings than you can shake a conservation area management plan at.  Very proud to display its Hanseatic League history, and with so many of its regeneration schemes financially supported by the European Regional Development Fund, the area voted heavily to Leave in the EU referendum….

And so to York where Mrs B has fellow clan members.

The Jorvik centre, interpreting the city’s Viking history through a Disney style ride, has reopened after severe flooding. Apparently these be-horned invaders were into mindfulness and just wanted to be left alone with their embroidery and tofu. Who knew?

I felt a profound bitterness at my parents that they hadn’t been able to bestow on their offspring a decent moniker like Mum and Dad Bloodaxe were able to pass on to their little Eric. Now that’s the kind of name badge you’d fancy picking up at a conference before heading for the twiglets.

There was still time to take in (again) the National Railway Museum. Awesome! But I’m reminded of the tendency for history to big up the achievements of those who write it. As a child I was taught that, along with killing or enslaving natives to make them (a) Christian, and (b) civilized, we could take pride that, in Mallard, we broke – and indeed still hold – the world speed record for a steam train. It’s only later that you discover that the record speed of 126 mph was attained for one second at which point the “big end” overheated and Mallard had to limp to Peterborough for repairs. But hey…

En route home from York we diverted to Isaac Newton’s old pad handily placed for the A1, or Great North Cart Track as old Isaac probably knew it. They still have the apple tree or, at least, its direct descendants so you can see if it still works. The kindly National Trust volunteer asked us if we had any questions to which Mrs Blog, not unreasonably, replied, “Does it work for cooking apples too?”  Bless.


Famous for being a bit rubbish

Reputations can be hard to establish. You don’t get to be the UK’s worst post-war PM like Theresa May (oh, ok, second worst) without a lot of determination. But other reputations  are acquired with ease. Eddie the Eagle became famous for ski-jumping without bothering to be good at it. The swimmer Eric Moussambani Malonga (“The Eel”) of Equatorial Guinea reached new heights (depths?) at the 2000 Olympics by completing his 100 metre freestyle heat in just shy of two minutes, or roughly a minute slower than anything other than Gondwanaland had managed before him.

It occurs to me that there are plenty of individuals and organisations out there whose reputations for particular products or performances are based on equally flimsy porridge. You will have your own list; this is mine.

Agatha Christie: may have been jolly good at, I don’t know, arm-wrestling or disappearing acts, but, Agatha, stay away from crime fiction. All that last chapter stuff when you produce brand new characters and scenarios out of the hat that we’ve never heard of to explain the inexplicable, come on! It’s like watching every episode of Death in Paradise, again and again and again…

Lynda La Plante: stick with the TV screenplays, Lynda, cos the books are clunky beyond belief. Like trying to read a Jeffrey Archer.

Starbucks: give up on the coffee – it’s just not you. Seriously, have you ever had a decent cup of coffee in a Starbucks?

Pret a Manger: ok provided you’re not looking for a sandwich. How can they be that dull? Fillings are supposed to be tasty for goodness’ sake.

Hershey: I have met people who claim they can eat Hershey bars but no non-Americans. How can they get chocolate so wrong?

Humous/hummus/hommous: no other words are needed.

Australians: sport? Really? Other than cricket, which?

Joe Allen: give up on the football, Joe. Try something you have an aptitude for. I could choose plenty of examples for this one – you’re just unlucky, Joe. Or a special case.

Boris Johnson: famous for what? Political acumen? Humour? Being an approximation of a trustworthy, half-decent human being? Nope, on all counts.

Virgin Holidays: hit the top of my “put them on hold, play them hugely irritating, ‘jolly holiday’ sounds for hours on end but, whatever you do, don’t answer the phone” list every time. “Your call is important to us – but not important enough for us to employ anybody to talk to you.” Customer care? Oh pleeeeze….

The Lord of the Rings films: Give me strength. Need a wee during the film? No need to press “pause”, you’ll miss nothing. They’ll be doing one of two things: marching across some landscape or it’ll be another fight to the death between people and things it’s impossible to care about. When you come back there’ll be some more marches and plenty more pointless scraps. Only the addition of a car chase could make it worse. If they feature the special effects in the trailers, you know it’ll be rubbish.

The King’s Singers: there used to be the Flying Pickets and a cappella singing was – briefly – fun. But sadly there’s also the King’s Singers, like dragging your finger nails down a blackboard.

Omid Djalili: the world’s unfunniest man in an admittedly crowded field? (Donald Trump has his own edgy “high risk” category). I’ve caught this bloke on numerous occasions on TV or radio and I always hope that humour will be along any minute. But it never happens. Is he a spoof?

The Nou Camp, Barcelona: it’s supposed to have “atmosphere”. I’ve been, for a vital, end of season Spanish championship decider. Trust me on this, it doesn’t. Unless you’re easily impressed by sweet unwrapping noises in a cinema and polite applause. If they built a roof it might help them.

White supremacists: if they’re so superior, how come they never win anything?

UK: once famous for showing the world how to do democracy. Now it’s too complicated for us and we’ve given up the pretence. Just leave us alone….


Apologies for the temporary absence of illustrations from this blog. There may well be a reason for this. Normal service will be resumed shortly.





The Discreet Charm of the Hop-on Hop-Off Bus


Knowing that what we really, really needed this year was to hang out with lots of overweight old people keen to tell us how much they love Donald Trump, we booked a cruise in April from Dubai to Venice.

The flight out to Dubai was memorable only for the chap in the seat in front lecturing a young mum on the need for her toddler to show respect for other passengers. (He had, as it happens, complained about the wi-fi before taking his seat, occupied one entire luggage bin with various bags and rebuked a steward loudly for bringing him the same wine as he’d had previously and not a different one – but, hey, he knew how toddlers should behave.)

Our trip from the airport to our hotel was enlivened by the taxi driver showing me photos on his phone of his family and the countryside in his native Nepal while the car in front braked hard and my subsequent scream may have saved him a significant repair bill. Indeed taxi drivers throughout our few days in Dubai seemed to hail from a wide range of nations, and it seems reassuringly “equal opps” that a complete lack of knowledge of the road network, traffic regulations or visitor attractions was no barrier to employment.

Dubai, a definite first for Family Blog, proved fascinating. We learned from a video that the Maktoum family – the ruling dynasty – isn’t interested in money but in creating a Vision for Dubai in which all may share. And that many innovators are attracted from all over the world to help build this Vision (and not to make money. Though I think our Nepalese taxi driver may have been OK with making some money, as that may be easier to send home.) Mrs Blog, working on the assumption that the MacToums were of Scottish origin, has in mind setting Blogdaughter up with one of them if we can work an introduction.

….and nae’ for the money, Jimmy

Dubai has shopping malls in much the same way as a hedgehog has fleas – all over the place. At the end of the day, while the one that Mrs Blog took me to (presumably by way of retribution for some failing on my part) did boast its own ice rink, huge aquarium (the largest crocodile in the world, allegedly) and, no doubt, full-size replicas of the Great Wall of China and the solar system, it’s still a bl**dy shopping mall and therefore guaranteed to ensure that one’s will to live drains rapidly into the desert sands.

Mrs B, you will be unsurprised to read, felt differently. The discovery of several branches of Marks and Spencer put a real spring into her stride and she was observed texting to her clanswoman in Scotland “You’d love the shops here. Gorgeous. Nothing you can afford at all.” And Subway did us a nice butty.

Burqa clad women sporting fetching eye make-up and Samsung 6 phones seemed well in control of their menfolk and were clearly setting themselves for a long stint of retail experience.

Mrs B made a pit stop at the “usual facilities” but had not, some 20 minutes later, reappeared. It took a while longer, and a series of text messages and a phone call via the nearest satellite, to locate her, having emerged via an alternative exit seemingly located in a different emirate.

It’s my belief that the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus is a much maligned, guilty pleasure – and rightly so, I hear you cry. Not afforded much coverage in the Lonely Planet guides, the lack of a flexible open top bus trip for city orientation purposes won’t, in my opinion, do anything to help places like Sana’a, Aleppo or Gaza build a sustainable tourist economy. I’ve grappled with faulty headphones, wandering language channels and noisy passengers who have clearly boarded the bus, not to see or be informed, but to shout continually to each other, but I’m still a fan – and have amassed a significant collection of route maps and little red and yellow earphones which I’m prepared to donate to a reputable museum. (On the Dubai tour I assumed there was only a brief introductory commentary rather than a full narrative, until I noticed that Mrs Blog had disconnected me while rooting around in her handbag.)

After three days’ sightseeing in Dubai (only partly on the bus – we also took in the top of the Burj Khalifa, the older parts of the city, the souk and the river) we joined our cruise ship. The ship’s departure was delayed until Mrs B pronounced herself satisfied with the new ID photo taken at check-in, but eventually we found our cabin (outside, with balcony), Mrs B rapidly annexed 90% of the cupboard space and, after a few false attempts, we were soon able to find our way back to our cabin from most parts of the ship.

As Brits we were naturally appalled to find there was no kettle in our cabin but, on urgent request, one was soon supplied and an international incident was avoided. Mrs B shouldn’t be expected to start the day without a nice cup of Twinings. You can take globe-trotting only so far.

An addition to the lengthening list of “Things you only do once”: Mrs B, in sensible cost-saving mode, packed into my suitcase a large plastic bottle of stuff for washing clothes. On unpacking in the cabin, all of the liquid was undoubtedly still in the suitcase but only part of it was still in the bottle. This had an interesting, and in one or two cases terminal, effect on the contents of the case.

Before departure we were all invited to muster on deck with our life jackets, standing in searing heat while we waited for those passengers who had found more interesting things to do. At least it was an opportunity to check out the other people you were intended to share a lifeboat with if things turned turtle. It wasn’t encouraging.

…and you won’t catch me saying “Women and children first”

Later, in our cabins, we were given further instruction on how to respond to anything that might arise involving pilates off the Somali coast. This made more sense once Mrs B, whose hearing may be better than mine, clarified this to “pirates”. On the basis that this was effectively an American ship, I assumed that at least half of the passengers were armed and we should be ok. The thrust of our briefing was that access to the open decks would be prohibited for three nights and all lights dimmed with the intention that we might be mistaken for a cargo ship rather than a cruise liner. My subsequent research (very expensive wi-fi) revealed that, while no cruise liner had ever been approached by pirates in this area, cargo ships were a fairly regular target. I thought it important to bring this point to the attention of the captain but was unable to do so.

Extract from our briefing video

Our first night’s cruising brought us to Muscat, capital and major port of Oman. And the opportunity for another Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour followed by a spot of retailing in the Muttrah Souk. A chap doesn’t like to wander too far from life’s essentials, like wi-fi, but the internet café boasted a line of frustrated users looking for a “fix” like the sort of queue I recall from university outside the only working phone kiosk.

Entertainment that evening was “Musicals from Broadway and the West End”, or more accurately “Musicals from Broadway”, though some were familiar. This was also characteristic of the food on offer (no reference to the part of the world we were passing through; a wide choice each day but essentially the LCD of what, one assumes, an unimaginative American family might wish to take with them.)  Many of these passengers do not look as though what they really need is unlimited free food 24 hours a day, or more elevators, come to that. TRY THE STAIRS FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!  Just because there’s hot dogs and cheesecake and grits and eggs and chocolate pie and rib-eye and syrup on the counter doesn’t mean they have to go together on your plate.


I have come to the realisation that most bodies look better covered up, and that those which don’t are not on this ship. Mrs B tried on a dress she’d brought for the formal evenings onboard. She wondered if it might be too big but I was able to reassure her that, on this ship, it soon wouldn’t be: for some reason this seemed not to be the right answer. I suppose one could prepare in advance for this kind of trip, not by honing one’s “bikini ready figure” but by building steadily for months towards a “cruise ready body” to make it easier to blend in.

A North American flavour also arose with some of the onboard quizzes: they were much easier if you were au fait with US soaps and crime series. Perhaps they should operate a handicapping system to give foreigners like us a sniff.

Longstanding readers of this blog may know that it takes itself way too seriously when it comes to quizzes and that robust debate with the question setter is never far away. I did try to pretend to myself that it didn’t matter but I put it to you, members of the jury, “What is an appropriate response to the following?”

Questionmaster (bearing, presumably following bouts of cosmetic tweaking, an uncanny likeness to Kryten in Red Dwarf): In which country are the Victoria Falls?

Blog, whispering to Mrs Blog: They’re on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe so what shall I put? Both? Which is he more likely to have down, Zambia?

Questionmaster: The answer is Rhodesia. No, I’m not taking any other answers.

Questionmaster: Which capital city is on the River Danube?

Blog, whispering: Shall I put down all four of them? Or should we go and get a coffee?


“and the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is still…”

It is with some satisfaction that I can report that the team of Blog and Mrs Blog romped home in the quiz that was purely on geography, though joy was short-lived when Mrs B GAVE AWAY our prize – a yellow highlighter pen bearing the name of the ship – to the first person she met afterwards….

There followed no fewer than five successive days “at sea”, scanning the horizon for any signs of piratical activity, made doubly necessary by the captain’s clearly misguided tactics of subterfuge. Undertaking this task had the benefit of taking Mrs B’s mind off the absence of affordable wi-fi. Lacking this basic ingredient for life we were obliged to talk to one another more than seemed reasonable for a married couple and Mrs B was reduced to checking out the world clock repeatedly on her mobile as the only function that was still operating – and you don’t want to see anybody reduced to that. She was also obliged to put on her make-up in the dark which had an effect similar to seeing Bridget Jones applying her lippy in a fast-moving taxi.

Intriguingly, fellow passengers were prepared to complain about delays in being served at the bar despite having b*gg*r *ll to do for five days.

Mrs B wasn’t keen for me to enter either the “World’s Sexiest Man” or “International Belly Flop” competitions by the pool, which seemed a shame, but I guess she wouldn’t want people ogling.

We eventually succumbed to the need to renew contact with the outside world and invested in a day’s wi-fi, not least to check via Wikipedia our recollection of old news broadcasts about Aden (Mad Mitch and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) and my favourite all-time country name, the Territory of Afars and the Issas (now Djibouti, if you’re bothered.)

Happily we made it safely through the Red Sea to landfall at Aqaba in Jordan and this was the starting point for our excursion to the wonders of Petra – “rose-red city, half as old as time” and all that. The coach trip was enlivened by a comment from our tour guide:

“One more question before I go for a motion.”

I glanced down the coach, wondering where he might have in mind, and saw one or two puzzled expressions.

“OK, here’s my motion: shall we have 30 minutes’ quiet before I start up again?”


I’m sure you can read about Petra elsewhere. It is of course fabulous, and will be even nicer when it’s finished, but after a couple of hours in the coach through the arid heart of “rural Jordan” I decided that my next solo coast to coast walk wouldn’t be across the Arabian peninsula.

From Aqaba through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. I was so keen not to miss this that, when we entered the canal at 4 a.m., I took myself up onto the open deck to watch. Not too many Mister Universes by the pool at that time, I can tell you…

By this time our list of “passengers to avoid” was lengthening steadily: the elderly male American with the pigtail and his purple haired partner sporting “I Voted Trump” T-shirts; the very loud Australian man (it’s mainly men) recounting what he’d paid for a cup of coffee in every port he’d ever visited; the Brit who wanted us to know how much he’d saved on the cruise and the excursions by booking through some kiosk in Harwich; the Australian couple who’d left the UK 30 years ago and wouldn’t consider returning as the place had gone downhill ever since – I replied “Yes, they weren’t able to replace you” but received a kick under the table from Mrs Blog.

To Ashdod in Israel and another coach trip to a place we’d never been, Jerusalem. Impossible of course not to be fascinated by the Holy City, which was especially busy, being Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday in the Christian calendar, and Passover in the Jewish calendar. We toured on foot many of the locations familiar from the Bible (or Life of Brian) including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western or Wailing Wall, with literally thousands of armed police in attendance, and followed up with a visit to the highly moving Holocaust Museum. We were treated to a heartfelt running commentary from our Israeli guide throughout the day and wondered how a Palestinian perspective might differ.

We docked the next day at Haifa and opted to potter round the town rather than take another coach trip. Possibly a mistake. An attractive and interesting place but effectively closed, being Good Friday.

At sea again on the Saturday and I’m going through my books at a fair old rate. I’m not fond of Kindle, so bring the real things with me. Heavy, I know, but I don’t really bring much else. To date on this trip:

Michael Frayn: Travels with a Typewriter: one of my favourite writers and he’s been knocking out great stuff for decades

Polly Bagnall and Sally Beck: Ferguson’s Gang: “the remarkable story of the National Trust gangsters”

Olivia Laing: To the River

HG Wells: The History of Mr Polly

James Runcie: The Grantchester Mysteries

Fraser McAlpine: Stuff Brits Like

Maria Trapp: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers: I’d run out of books and “borrowed” this from the ship’s library. It’s interesting to compare this original account with the film – and I reckon both the family and the songs were a lot duller…

…plus sundry travel guides…

….well, I’ve never had literary pretensions.

Easter Sunday was spent in Athens, with public buildings again closed but plenty of eating places and shops open. We could see the Acropolis and the Parthenon from below (we’d both been before) and tucked into great moussaka (with retsina for nostalgic purposes) in Plaka. Oh, and two hop-on hop-off bus tours – have I mentioned those?

Two more days at sea approaching the final cruise destination, Venice. The cruise “entertainment” comprised a load of stuff you wouldn’t want to see or do (Family Helicopter Origami, Finish that Lyric Game Show, Walking in Comfort sponsored by Goodfeet, “Thriller” Dance Class) but we had enjoyed two classical/”crossover” concerts by a (British) pianist and young violinist, another two by a (British) electric violinist with small backing orchestra, and two by a Beatles tribute band. Now, these were good, and generated plenty of noise and atmosphere, but I’m not prepared these days to stand, wave my arms in the air and jig about on demand. If I’m going to do “fun” I like to choose my moments…

And so to Venice, the third time for both of us. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise but, even though you know what to expect, it’s still mindboggling. You could look at those views for ever and still have to be dragged away. To do something new, we took in the Peggy Guggenheim collection of modern art. For a change I recognised almost all of the names and some of the works, though at one point I had worked my way through the explanatory panel accompanying one of the exhibits and was attempting to share this with Mrs Blog when it was pointed out to me that the panel referred to the rather different picture on the other side.


Our hotel on the Grand Canal. There are worse places to have breakfast.

IKEA now do a nice flat-pack Bridge of Sighs

Having run out of Colgate I picked up a tube of toothpaste at a small shop in a quiet back street. Our “turning in for the night” routine in our hotel on the Grand Canal took a surprisingly tense turn when Mrs B squeezed an unexpectedly brown substance from the tube onto her toothbrush, applied it in the standard way and let out the most fearsome stream of oaths and spitting noises followed by what I feel was an unwarranted degree of abuse. Subsequent investigation of the offending tube has failed to identify quite what we bought in that shop; it may of course have been an Italian response to Brexit.

Not quite ready yet to return to the world of work, we travelled by train next day through the Tyrol to Vienna. Other European nations seem to run better train services than us.

Vienna was a first for both of us, but by no means our first hop-on hop-off bus tour of the holiday. I was pleased to see they had taken a leaf out of Hull’s book and branded part of the city centre Museums Quarter. Buildings like the opera house, Hofburg Palace, St Stephans Cathedral and the upmarket coffee houses (yum) dominate the typical images of the city but we successfully sought out the Hundertwasserhaus (check it out, amazing) and the Secession building, and half of us took a ride on the ancient wooden Ferris wheel (The Third Man, and all that.) The other half of us fancied a go on one of the Lippizaner horses at the Spanish Riding School but my blagging powers are clearly waning.

The wonderful Hundertwasser building and the cafe

If you’re going to go round in a 212 foot tall Ferris wheel in extremely strong winds, make sure it’s made of wood and 120 years old…

…and for those who remember, welcome to 1979…

And so to home to catch up with all our recorded episodes of Line of Duty (no, don’t tell us!), Broadchurch and Homeland, and managing to pick up two lousy colds en route.

Talk to you again soon.






The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions


“Where are you up to?” I hear you ask.

Coast to coast walk – New Brighton (like Brighton but without the refinement, and sun) to Spurn Head (a mobile, transient kind of shoreline for our times) via Liverpool, Manchester, Huddersfield and Hull – 200 miles duly walked. Booker Prize winning narrative, first and second drafts completed. J K Rowling style publishing contract still a work in progress. Filming rights under negotiation; George Clooney in frame to play the part of “me” but content of Oscar acceptance speech may prove stumbling block.

I travelled on the Mersey ferry, on a ghost train and by narrow boat through the Pennines. I attended a liquorice festival in Pontefract, a Super League game in Castleford, a gathering of brass bands in Saddleworth (sadly Tara Fitzgerald no longer plays solo flugelhorn with Grimley Colliery band)….

… a whole assortment of museums and theatres, Edwardian swimming baths and a wildflower centre (in Liverpool!) I was made welcome at the finest cat hotel in Dewsbury or anywhere else, at a bingo night in Hull and a pub quiz in Liverpool. I stayed in splendid old railway hotels, hostels, welcoming B&Bs and some distinctly ordinary pubs. I ate more curries, scouse, spam fritters, home-made ice cream, Hull potato patties and full English than you can shake a black pudding at. There was snow and torrential rain on Merseyside and heatstroke on the Humber. I hung out with the Pankhursts, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Wilberforce and Philip Larkin. And Kay Kendall.

Yorkshire folk, they’re not like other folk…

And I was privileged to visit some of the most exciting conservation schemes and heart-warming community and social projects you’ll encounter anywhere, meeting volunteers and staff making huge efforts to preserve and enhance the social and environmental soul of the country – with little reward beyond the knowledge that their contributions are greatly appreciated by those who benefit from them. While public services continue to be sacrificed to the false gods of austerity and tax cutting, the nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who unflinchingly put their fingers in the dyke and strive to stem the tide.

All I need now is the book.

I’m grateful for your suggested alternative titles.

“John”, sensing the value of wordplay, gave me “To Hull and Back”, adding the proviso that it would only work if I turned round on reaching the North Sea and did the whole walk in reverse. We haven’t spoken since…

“Keith”, seeking a musical link between my start and end points of Merseyside and Humberside, posited “Hull hath no Fury, but it does hath Ronnie Hilton and David Whitfield”. Mm.

I think I’ve got the dedication sorted, along these lines:

To the taxi drivers of Yorkshire for your unequivocal advice, thank you. I wouldn’t have grasped the subtleties of Brexit or Hull, City of Culture without your help.

Well, it’s a work in progress…

I am very pleased to have help from Jennifer Barclay, a real travel writer with a website and everything, in honing my magnum opus, accepting the excessive grumblings of a knackered cross country walker and reminding me that I don’t have permission to use song lyrics or quote extensively from eminently quotable sources.

As it happens, I have now been given permission by Alison McGovern MP to quote from the lyrics of her grandfather, Pete McGovern’s In My Liverpool Home:

 “We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,

   meet under a statue exceedingly bare,

   if you want a cathedral we’ve got one to spare

   in my Liverpool home….”

… which is cool.

I still need the nod from Gerry Marsden, Philip Larkin, Anthony Gormley and the authors of Crap Towns but it’s surely only a matter of time.

To create an illusion of narrative merit I’m also delighted to say that Polly Toynbee (nowadays mainly The Guardian), Dr Helen Pankhurst (very much a Pankhurst and as helpful as one could possibly imagine) and Fiona Reynolds (National Trust, CPRE, writer and much besides) have all kindly supplied words of endorsement for the cover. Which may give you a flavour of how it will read…

Even before it comes off the presses The Road to Hull has had the benefit of press coverage. Back in the spring of last year this blog was approached by a student journalist from Sussex University asking for an interview about the Great Trek for a piece to be offered to local papers. A meeting was arranged to fit in, for the sake of convenience, after an appointment I had made with the local foot doctor to examine some seriously walk-battered toenails. A quick examination revealed that these couldn’t all be saved and, after a swift toenailectomy while I bit down on my newspaper, I crossed the road to a café for our meeting.

My interviewer asked why I was doing the walk, how many miles I hoped to do each day, how it had gone so far, what was still to come. It was gratifying to share my thoughts and experiences with someone who was interested. I gave it my best shot, threw in plenty of anecdotes and told him where I’d been immediately before our meeting.

I picked up a copy of the local paper later in the week to see if I was in there. There was a big article with a photo under a bold headline:

66 Year Old Chiropodist Patient Plans Coast to Coast Walk

To help me in my endeavours Mrs Blog has bought me a fine writer’s hat.

That at least is how she described it when persuading me to buy one at the Bruges Christmas market. It may have been what she thought I needed to keep my head warm and dry but I prefer to believe in its special creative qualities. Without his hat Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been just a short fat bloke from Portsmouth stood in front of a pile of chains. Without his hat Indiana Jones would have been some supply teacher of archaeology with a frown and a bullwhip fixation. Without a writer’s hat this blog would be just some bloke with a cold; but don his new, size 7 literary headgear and he is transformed into a bloke with both a cold and a hat. And with those anything is possible.

…but, even with a hat, some people are beyond help

Mrs Blog and I will be taking a break in April with a cruise line owned and frequented by Americans. She has instructed me not to mention, or respond to, or think about, the T word. I promise nothing…

But before that this blog has an appointment in London on Saturday 25 March with tens of thousands of others, the ones who’ve looked into the chasm that is Brexit and are sore afraid. I attended a “What happens next?” panel event last week featuring our MP and spokespersons for the other parties. The MP’s position can reasonably be represented as:

  1. She voted Leave in the referendum
  2. She saw the chief benefits as being able to trade with the US to take advantage of their lower standards of food safety and environmental protection, and with China so we can improve their human rights record, and ensuring that Filipino nurses should have the same opportunities to seek work here as French nurses. (She’d had, presumably, nine months to come up with those.)
  3. While a 52/48% split for Leave was highly significant in the national vote, a 52/48 % split in favour of Remain in her own constituency on the other hand meant we were split down the middle.
  4. However obvious and appalling the economic and other implications of Brexit were now becoming, she would – now that parliament had, against the wishes of the government, been given a say — support “Article 50”.

And we used to think we had a sophisticated democracy…

Join me in London on the 25th!





To Spurn: transitive verb: tread sharply or heavily upon




Webster’s dictionary has it about right. By the time I reached Spurn Head at the end of my 200 mile plus coast to coast walk I guess I was treading pretty heavily. But I made it and have some arty pics to prove it.


The final stage of my walk began in Hull – a place I had never visited before this summer but where I have now had three brief stays and am keen to revisit to sample the joys of the City of Culture programme next year. I took the view that my accommodation in Hull would be at the Royal Station Hotel on the basis that if it was good enough for Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and five royal children back in 1853, it’s likely to be quite old and worn now so probably affordable. And, although Hull megastar and beat poet Philip Larkin described “Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel” as:

Hours pass,
And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,
Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room.

……even that’s ok as they’ve emptied the ashtrays now.


Hull commemorates one of its most famous residents; Larkin in Paragon Station outside the Royal Hotel

Faced with a free evening on arrival in Hull I did the only thing a global traveller like myself could do and headed straight for the Mecca Bingo hall opposite the hotel for an intensive, eyes down session of housey-housey. I had prepared thoroughly for the occasion and made full use of the helpful Mecca website:

“Bingo is like theatre: it has a beginning, a middle and an end.”

“Shelley deserves to go higher in the bingo world.”

And I noted that Kirsty, with no less than 39% of the poll, had emerged as Online Chat Moderator of the Month.

I was particularly taken with a part of the website devoted to “Lost Bingo Halls”. These, it transpires, tended to have been cinemas before they became bingo halls in the 1960s but were sadly no longer viable and had been lost to “the beautiful game”. Memories and photographs of these treasured venues were invited. It’s funny, I always thought of them as much loved cinemas lost to bingo; not any more.

I now know that the period from 2005 to 2010 was “particularly savage” (Mecca website again) for club closures owing to the 2007 smoking ban and changes in the laws limiting prize payouts and number of gaming machines.

I can confirm that they no longer call “clickety click” or “two fat ladies”, if indeed they ever did. And, on the basis that I won not a brass farthing all night, I’m happy to convince myself that skill is not an essential criterion for success, an outcome which seems to correlate quite closely with waist size.

Four days of walking took me from Hull through Holderness to Spurn Head via 19th century Fort Paull, the faded seaside resort (is there another kind, and if there were, would I be going there?) of Withernsea and the attractive village of Patrington.


Having, for lack of choice, booked a room (“shared facilities”) in a Withernsea pub, I have concluded that I’m getting too old for that kind of intimacy. Shared bathroom ok, shared towel less so. Fag end outside my door, no thanks. But excellent spam fritters for tea at the Golden Haddock nearby.

Withernsea’s Lighthouse Museum – probably the only museum in the UK (only the UK?) devoted to the memory of actress Kay Kendall, a native and former resident of the town – is a joy. (I feel confident that KK would have referred to herself as an actress rather than an actor, though I have nothing to back that up.) Known to many primarily as a star of light comedy films like Genevieve (reviewed by the Catholic Times as “unsavoury … smut”) and Doctor in the House, she was described as having “more allure in her eyes than Marilyn Monroe has from top to toe” (Picturegoer, 1954.) Kay Kendall died from leukaemia at the age of 32.


In carrying out the vital background research for my walk, I acquired, and read, her biography. To prove this I will relate that the four stars of Genevieve — Kenneth More, John Gregson, Dinah Sheridan and KK — each earned two thousand pounds from the film. If you are riveted by this nugget of information, you must feel free to make me an offer for The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall without delay. Seriously, the sooner the better.

At Patrington’s Station Hotel I was generously treated to an excellent dinner on account of my tales of derring-do. While awaiting my meal I took the opportunity to catch up with the local headlines in the Holderness Gazette – visitor numbers at the Withernsea Lighthouse Museum, news of the 2017 City of Culture programme and a controversy over plans for a new visitor centre on Spurn Head. Nothing however rivalled the item headed:

“Council to replace bent post”

Now I was truly hooked. Referring to a damaged sign in Queen Street, Withernsea – good heavens, the very road where my zero rated accommodation had been the previous night –  the story ran, “mystery surrounds …. believed the pole was inadvertently bent by a van making a delivery to a shop”. So, at least terrorism had been ruled out. Happily it appeared that moves were afoot to restore order as an East Riding spokesperson had announced that the council was aware of the problem and would be removing the bent post in due course and replacing with a new post and sign. It wasn’t made clear whether the authorities were still seeking anyone in connection with the incident, or that anybody was receiving counselling.


A post


Having reached the end of the known world, or at least Spurn Head, with nowhere else to go, I was picked up by Mrs. Blog – arriving just a brief three and a half hours after me – in a hire car. There followed several days’ enjoyable R&R in Hull (where else?), Beverley and York with Mrs. B plus her fellow clan member and two good chums and former colleagues intent on me celebrating in style and sampling the best fish supper in the East Riding, on condition that I didn’t show them my toenails.

I wasn’t entirely off duty while still on the Humber, fitting in a meeting with Goole Civic Society, a private tour of the splendidly Edwardian Beverley Road baths, a visit to William Wilberforce’s House (“There was always a great Yorkshire pie in his rooms”) and a failed meeting with the Hull City of Culture 2017 team. Unfortunately their Head of Communications hadn’t told anyone I was coming – which doesn’t augur well for next year.  (It’s ok, we’ve kissed and made up since.)

The meeting-that-wasn’t did mean there was time for a second visit to the Deep which is a truly ace (sorry, I must brush up on my travel writing technique) attraction. It’s an aquarium in the same way as the Shard is an office block and it’s full of excellent information panels:

Amphioxus “prefers to spend its time buried in the sand in tropical lagoons”.  That’s you and me both, Amphi baby…

“If attacked the Sea Cucumber can shoot out its stomach and leave it behind”.  Come on, what wouldn’t you give to have that as your superpower?


 Denizens of the Deep?

From Hull via Beverley to York in case Hull were to prove too earthy for Mrs. B and some TLC  was needed in the form of Bettys tearooms (three times, and we were only there for two days). This brief stop also embraced a river trip, a wander round the walls, evensong at the Minster (religious beliefs not required), the Shambles (it is) and the National Railway Museum (Mrs. B thought Mallard was nice and shiny.)



Thanks so much for all the moral support and generous sponsorship on behalf of the British Heart Foundation during this walk. Over £1300 raised so far – and there’s still time!

Now I just have about 60,000 words to write before I forget where I’ve been – a not uncommon problem, I find.


One separate, non-coast-walk visit to report amongst a handful of Heritage Open Day treats: a guided tour of Lewes prison. This sits almost next door to Blog Mansions in Sussex and our neighbours are always popping round to borrow things, like crowbars, and stuff to put in a cake.  We like to point it out to tourists and tell them it’s Lewes’s Norman castle.

The tour was a sobering experience, whatever view one takes of forms of punishment and standards of treatment. We were shown the bomb disposal pit outside the front gate. This is where, on discovering a suspect package, you should run and get rid – a role, I understand, generally delegated to new recruits.

We toured the library – just like any other library, we were told. But presumably without the same imminent closure.

We were informed that a new inmate was permitted to wear his own gear until sentenced, and I suddenly remembered that, personally, I’d always favoured black trousers, a white shirt, black tie and epaulettes, and the word “warder” in large letters.


Recently arrived prisoner in “civvy” gear…

They showed us where the hangings used to take place, both public and private, and we heard about some of the more noted “guests” – Reggie Kray, Eamon de Valera, Sion Jenkins — and Mick Jagger (just a one night gig, we understand, for “possession”.) Sadly there are no blue plaques on the cells of the famous, no Loyd Grossman asking “Who lives here?” as the cameras pan round, no prospect of newly convicted prisoners putting in a special request for a celebrity pad.


Mick, probably not what you want to be wearing inside, even if it is your own kit…

But perhaps, amongst all the other discouragements to a continuing life of crime, the most chilling became apparent towards the end of our tour: no wi-fi but unending repeats of Eastenders.


And a thought this week for Terry Jones. Python, Ripping Yarns, Labyrinth. Actor, comedian, film and opera director, poet, writer. Historian – his “Barbarians” is an excellent read. Recipient this month of a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Welsh Baftas. And approachable. I contacted Terry two or three years ago, having attended the same Oxford college, asking if he would be kind enough to take a look at a light hearted book I’d written on the joys of living with a vet with a view to a few words of endorsement for the cover. Terry obliged swiftly and generously, for which I remain extremely grateful.

He is now apparently suffering from an illness which will progressively impede his ability to communicate. It’s desperately sad that he won’t be finding new ways to entertain and inform us, but that’s one hell of a portfolio, Terry. Very best wishes.





Rubbish, Sobriety and Not-so-Crap-Towns



Mrs. Blog is still suffering from existential post-Brexit shock.

Until June, bless her, she had steadfastly believed in the innate sanity of the world and its capacity to accommodate and eventually overcome its rotten parts. This despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – the absence of wi-fi in our ancient Renault Clio, the existence of wasps and Margaret Thatcher.

But the Brexit vote has required an altogether mightier suspension of disbelief, and, as a sensitive soul, I can tell that it’s taken its toll of her. I decided last weekend to give her a break from her routine, get her out of the house — to raise the spell, as it were. I took her with me to the Lewes household waste site. She had been led to believe by Blogneighbour that, among society’s droppings, there were untold nuggets in the form of haute couture outfits, Ming vases and Chippendales (the furniture, I presume rather than the pectoral displays, but who knows?) just waiting to be discovered and snapped up for a trifle.


As this was to be her first visit she rightly took her time choosing her outfit, asked what others might be wearing (no embarrassing clashes, thank you!), checked the local weather forecast, did whatever it is she does with her hair, asked my opinion on an appropriate amount of make-up, selected from a range of footwear, rechecked her hair, and popped a second pair of shoes and gloves in the car, just in case.


Mrs. Blog gears up for her day out…

Bubbly with anticipation en route, I think it would be fair to say that Mrs. B went rather quiet on arrival. If surprised – perhaps disappointed even – she tried to conceal the fact, knowing as she does just what a high point this is in my social calendar.  But it was when she realised that I’d been lying to her about there being a teashop that she turned what I can only describe as “chilly” and declined to get out of the car. It would be best to draw a veil over the journey home.

They say that you should strive to introduce new things to your relationship, to show that you’re in tune with their feelings. But women, eh, what are they like? I’ll never understand ’em.


Last year’s wedding anniversary treat


I’m also not certain that I fully understand the Olympics.

I can easily be raised to excitement when “our” boys and girls beat “their” drug-fuelled cheats and bring home the medals, and I was an enthusiastic snapper up of tickets for the London games, as well as the Commonwealths in both Manchester and Glasgow. And, while we’re on that, if Liverpool does bid for those, as has been rumoured, I’ll book in for the duration.

But I’m not sure that I get all that stuff with the flags and anthems, and, as this blog has indicated before, I fear that some of our national symbols have been co-opted by the darker side of the community – and you don’t get much darker than “Leave EU” and its attempts to claim credit for Team GB’s medallists. Exactly what kind of superiority are we asserting here?  Mrs. Blog says I over-think these things.

Once I’d got over the fact that Jason Kenny and Laura Trott had upstaged Mrs. B and me as “Golden Couple” (I’ve never taken Posh and Becks as serious rivals for our crown), I could marvel at the synchronised, free-style bear-wrestling with the best of them and relish the fact that our equestrian dressage team had once more defeated the very best that Madagascar and Tuvalu could throw at us.

The Games highlight for me? The table that came up on the screen listing all-time top Olympic gold medal winners:

Michael Phelps: 13

Leonidas of Rhodes: 12

Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Paavo Nurmi and some Russian gymnast whom we won’t count for obvious reasons: 9

Leonidas the sprintmeister, as absolutely nobody called him, was unbeatable from 164 BC to 152 BC in the stadion, the diaulos and the hoplitodromos – the first of those in the nude (and no doubt while reciting a poem of his own creation and strumming on his lyre, which could have been dangerous), the last while wearing full armour for which I’m sure he would have had his own cult following. Try that, Usain, before claiming immortality!

Olympic runners depicted on an ancient Greek vase given as a prize in the Panathenaea, circa 525 BC. Original Publication : Picture Post - 5953 - Where the Olympic Games Started - pub. 1952 (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Presumably the marathon — you wouldn’t want to be caught short while running 26 miles…

So far as is known, Leonidas never uttered the words, when a microphone was pushed in front of him at the finishing line, “Clare, I just don’t believe it, I can’t believe it, I’m just so… I can’t believe it.” Admittedly, his achievements have to be considered against a backdrop of a ban on athletes from Sparta owing to a city-state sponsored retsina doping programme. That, and the fact that no other countries had yet been invented. It made playing the national anthem for the winners so much easier…

Mens Sana In Corpore Sano (Healthy Mind in an Healthy Body)

Excessive use of  anabolic steroids may have unexpected side effects…


…especially in the equestrian events


Which takes me back to Goole.

I obviously can’t get enough of “England’s furthest inland port” (assuming you’ve not heard of London) and, having reached Goole at the end of stage 4 of my coast to coast walk, I was back there in mid-August to commence my penultimate, stage 5, to Hull.

I spent a highly rewarding afternoon at Goole’s Yorkshire Waterways Museum with the Director of the Sobriety Project, named after a canal boat (the project, not the Director, who was no doubt named after his parents.)


Back in 1973 a local businessman bought and refurbished Sobriety, a “Humber Keel” built in 1910, in order to give young people a chance to learn life skills in an outdoor environment. By 1980 a charitable foundation had been established to carry on the work and more boats had been acquired. In 1990 the Waterways Museum where we met, within Goole’s docks, was built to provide a base and the project expanded, using its vessels, nature trail, community gardens, allotments and healthy eating café to provide opportunities for disadvantaged people in a deprived community – adults with learning difficulties, youngsters excluded from school, adults seeking new skills or deploying old ones while serving custodial sentences, and low income families.

Recent economic recession has hit the project hard, with user groups increasingly strapped for cash, but the staff and more than 100 volunteers (some of whom are former beneficiaries of the project) battle on. Not for the first time on this walk I find myself humbled by the commitment of individuals and organisations to mending the holes in the fabric of society.


Not having left myself sufficient time on this visit I arranged to meet up with the chair of the Goole Civic Society when I’m next in the area to continue the walk. Somehow it seems relatively straightforward to run a civic society if you live somewhere like York or Beverley, less so if your town carries less obvious kudos – I’m conscious that Hull, my next port of call, was voted number one in the 2003 compilation Crap Towns: the 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK.


Me, I thoroughly enjoyed my few days in Hull (once I’d recovered from heatstroke brought on by a nine hour walk – and over 40,000 steps on my smart, new pedometer — on a hot day along a shade-free Humber estuary). The Luftwaffe did a huge amount of damage to the city and its rebuilding wasn’t an unmitigated success, but much of its lovely old town survives, and you can’t go far wrong when you have street names like Land of Green Ginger.


The city is working hard at rebranding itself. Its magnificent “The Deep” super-aquarium, its novel swing bridge over the River Hull, the museum quarter and the William Wilberforce House are a must-see.

Having begun my coast to coast journey in Liverpool, former European Capital of Culture, I’ve been keen to see how Hull, UK City of Culture in 2017, is responding to the challenge and opportunity. As well as fixing to meet with the official organising team, I decided to try out the locals:

Me: So, is everybody in Hull looking forward to next year, with the City of Culture thing?

My taxi driver: No.

Me: I imagine there’s lots of publicity and planning going on?

Taxi driver: No idea.

Me: Well, I assume it’ll bring lots of visitors to the city, more custom for the taxis?

Taxi driver: Shouldn’t think so.

Me: Perhaps repeat visits even?

Taxi driver: Not once they’ve seen it.

Me: Ah, is that my hotel?


Anyway, I’ll be back in Goole and Hull later this month, raring to reach my finish line at Spurn Head, via Fort Paull and what I assume to be the nation’s only museum dedicated to the memory of Kay Kendall. Then all I have to do is write it up.

Please keep those generous sponsorship contributions coming in for the British Heart Foundation – you’ve passed £1,200!