4 out of 5 stars
Ever since Wainwright popularised the Coast to Coast in his book it has become one of the countries favourite walks with thousands of people taking a couple of weeks to walk it every year. There have even been some mad souls who have run it, completing it in under two days! Hugh Thomson though is doing things differently and undertaking the route with a mule called Jethro. Mules are not that common these days, but they were regularly used as pack animals until the middle ages and then stopped being used for one reason or another.
Having got a mule with him, he is not going to be able to use the footpaths recommended in the guide book, however, he is going to be following the old drovers roads that are slowing fading from the landscape from lack of use. This not about the journey either, rather this is his way of meeting the people that live along the route and taking the time to contemplate life a little and think. Jethro is a conversation starter as well as being a silent companion, and he has it the easiest too. Rather than being saddled with loads that his medieval forebears would have been expected to carry, he is very lightly loaded. He is also accompanied by the Irish writer, Jasper Winn, who you’d normally fine in a boat. It does make a slight mockery of the title of the book, but Winn adds far more depth to the walk as they set the world to rights across the spine of England.
It had parallels to Spanish Steps, where Tim Moore walks across Spain with a donkey. Not as funny as that book, but I thought that this was a really enjoyable meander across the bridleways of north England very loosely following the coast to coast path. I liked that fact that he wasn’t trying to add deeper meaning to this walk, rather doing it because he could and because he wanted too. The conversations with the people that he meets, from other authors to old school friends he hasn’t seen for half a lifetime, add depth to the book and he little sojourns to see particular things of interest highlight how much history is layered on this landscape. Both authors were frustrated that Jethro’s social media page had more likes then either of theirs which did make me chuckle.