Setting off


What does a person take to live out in the world for a couple of months? Seemingly too much.

William Cobbett seemed to relish going out on his Rural Rides without a map and ignoring the directions of locals. Two centuries later, J.B. Priestley heads out with ‘the minimum of clothes, a portable typewriter, the usual paraphernalia of pipes, notebooks, rubbers, paper fasteners, razor blades, Muirhead’s Blue Guide to England, Stamp and Beaver’s Geographic and Economic Survey, and, for reading in bed, the tiny thin paper edition of the Oxford Book of English Prose.’ So, too many books and not enough clothes.

I’m in good company then. I’ve a compass in place of a map, and a phone whose battery will no doubt fail at opportune moments. But it all depends on how you go. Priestley travels England by coach; Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson prefer trains; Cobbett, Celia Fiennes and Gerald of Wales go by horse; William Gilpin and Thomas Pennent rely on boats; H.V. Morton takes the car, as many people would. I prefer the bike, though the bike does not prefer me. With a malfunction rate of once per few miles, I need the tools. And without a warm hotel or inn awaiting me, the stove may seem a luxury but will keep me going during the tougher mountain stretches.

In around twenty minutes I’ll head through Elephant and Stratford to Kelvedon Hatch, and from there to Basildon, and then Canvey Island. This is it!


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