‘It’s a shit town, but it’s our town’ – Lloyd, joking, Wakefield.
I wake up in Wakefield, and the weather’s bad. Grey and rainy, my original plans to see Halifax, Bradford, and Leeds fill me with mild dread.
The map is driving me mad. There is simply so much to see, so much to comment on, so many people to talk to, and talk about, that my brain is unravelling and my certainties disappearing. It’s liberating, certainly, but it can lend itself to an unhealthy obsessiveness about documenting everything.
It’s a condition that one earlier traveller of these isles, John Leland, suffered from. He set out in 1536 to record information from the endangered libraries of monasteries, then in a state of dissolution, and find evidence of England’s Arthurian past. On the road though, he discovered a more compelling and truly impossible calling, to map the entire landscape of the country in words. The task eventually drove him insane, as he criss-crossed the country, visiting and re-visiting locations, with his book gradually losing all form. Layer upon layer of observation was added in an attempt to record everything. As he wrote to Henry VIII,
‘In so muche that all my other occupacyons intermitted, I have so travelled in your domynions both by the see coastes and the myddle partes, sparynge neyther labour nor costs by the space of these vi. yeares past, that there is almost neyther baye, haven, creke or pere, river or confluence of ryvers, breches, washes, lakes, meres, fenny waters, mountaynes, valleys, mres, hethes, forestes, woodes, cyties, burges, castles, pryncypall manor places, monasteryes, and college, but I have seane them, and noted in so doynge a whole worlde of thynges verye memorable.’