4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Laurence Mitchell really didn’t have a plan for this walk, rather the aim was to drift west from his home on the east coast with the intention of ending up in Wales at some indeterminant point in the future. He did want to head back to some of the places that held memories for him though and also to explore other places that he had passed in the car and knew little about. The route that he didn’t want to plan, was suddenly coming together.
He decided to begin in Great Yarmouth, and more specifically from the Britannia Monument. His wife and he took advantage when it was open to the public on the annual heritage weekend and they could climb the 217 steps to the top. Being Norfolk is was one of the highest points around and he could see the spit of sand that Yarmouth was based around. He turns inland and looks at the silver snake of Breydon Water. He would be heading in that direction in a few days along the Wherryman’s Way.
Mitchell was not going to attempt the whole walk in one go, life and other things were going to mean that it wasn’t possible. Rather he undertakes it in several sections and the first day’s walk was around seven to eight miles and ended up at the Berney Arms pub. He caught a train back to Norwich he returns a week later to walk onwards again. This time he would be walking alone and back to his home in Norwich. It is not long before he is walking into the Fens, a part of the county that he has only really seen from a car or train window. It is a reminder that sometimes we need to get to know where we live a little better.
The second part of the walk is in the Midlands, a place that he knows well as he grew up in Redditch. It was way back in his memories but had changed a lot since he left, so it felt like he was visiting a new place. Gone is the heavy industry and there are still traces of it left if you know where to look. Even though it was close to the urban centre of Birmingham the people of Redditch were independently minded and they still are.
Wales is the final part of his journey. He picks up the walk again after the winter heading back to Clun in May. He walks over rather than along Offa’s Dyke, the original border between England and Wales and finds himself walking along the Kerry Ridgeway, a path that predates the Iron Age. Wales is a place of memories, holidays and days out from home when he was younger. The pace is slower here because of the hills but it is not long before he will be in Aberystwyth.
It seems strange reading about travelling in the times before the pandemic, normal conversations were had, he eats in restaurants. Well, you know what I mean. This is no Great Walk, rather this is a lovely paced memoir with a lovely mix of travel, personal memoir and anecdote and with potted histories of the places he passes. It is also a glimpse of a part of the country that I know very little about. One of the places that he passes through is on my list to visit one day, Sutton Cheney. (I have to really). It even has a bibliography, a lot of which I know about, but some of which I haven’t read, yet.