Day 103: Glastonbury to Exmoor

‘We just sell things, we don’t make them.’ – Andy, Bridgwater.

I awake at Ellie’s after a good night’s sleep. I’m up early in fact, but the bright morning’s dedicated to the mundane business of emails arranging accommodation over these final weeks. By the time I’m up Ellie’s in the kitchen making tea and porridge. The sun is out, and she shows me more of the garden her and her mum have created from nothing in a mere nine months. There are few pleasures simples than the contemplation of life growing, thriving, in whatever form it takes.

It’s a perfect day for a bike ride – is every day not? But this September has been unusually hot, a fine relief after a rainy August, and today is especially sunny. So we cycle out to Glastonbury town. It’s bustling with an abundance of cafes, people leisurely sitting outside, and buskers in the background singing the counterculture hits of yesteryear. Middle-aged men and women share a unisex style of long-hair, tie-died clothes and leather waistcoats, and gently wander up the high street, past African art stores, esoteric bookstores, shops honouring the Goddess and the Green Man, and Glastonbury’s classic ‘Burns the bread’ bakers. We peer into the ruins of the abbey, sacked by the knights of Henry VIII, but don’t feel inspired to pay the charge. Then we head up to Glastonbury Tor, where many have come this sunny Sunday noon to watch the surrounding Somerset Levels.

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Days 72-73: Isle of Man

‘You go home, put on the TV, put your feet up, make some dinner, go to bed, wake up, and then you die!’ – Jeff, Douglas.

I awake on Sonya’s sofa in the west end of Morecambe. The morning sun bursts between and beneath the sitting room curtains, distributing a calm and cheery aura about the place. With Sonya’s early-teenage son Zack, a sharp-witted and funny companion in our conversations, we head out into Morecambe for a spot of breakfast. As we pass along the sea-front, Sonya points to where fairs, swimming pools and other proud mainstays of the Morecambe resort once stood. Unlike Scarborough, there’s no conspicuous absence of these glories. The strange thing about Morecambe is that after spending time here, it seems unlikely that there ever was an overextended and wildly ambitious resort here, for good, or for ill.

Bye bye happiness, hello loneliness, I think I’m gonna cry…

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Day 43: Orkney to Shetland

‘The technical word for this is fucked’ – Steve, Orkney.

There’s little evidence for the passage of time in Orkney. It’s a place to come and disappear. Anyone thinking of faking their own deaths for whatever purpose, take note. There’s no need to travel to Panama like John Darwin of Seaton Carew, or disappear in some Mexican river like Arthur Cravan.

Even Elvis Presley could conceivably have arrived here without raising an eyebrow. I can picture The King dawdling across St. Margaret’s Hope harbour and into a taxi run by a farmer whose crops are out of season. It being a solitary occupation, the farmer, let’s call him Gerard, doesn’t even look up to inspect his rear passenger. Later, responding to an ad in a local rag, Elvis sports an oversized waterproof coat and trapper hat, and traded a few gold records for a third-hand fishing boat with some local. He lived out the remainder of his days just off the coast of North Ronaldsay, failing to ever work out how to fish trout.

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Day 42: Auckengill to Orkney

‘And on the eighth day, God opened his bowels and out came…’ – Russell, Orkney, on home.

A weird young man greets me on the road leaving Auckengill where I slept the previous night. In the midnight confusion, what seemed like the disused remains of a former country lane turned out to be a road drainage ditch. Once nestled inside my tent, I could hear and feel great piles of discarded plastic bottles and car debris crumpling under the thick grass. The cool morning and unfamiliar landscape is already disorientating.

He has a large rock tied to the back of his bike, and dons an old farmer’s tweed blazer and a pair of dirty jeans, several sizes too large. At first I can’t understand him. Accents have changed since Wick, gas a more lilting and Irish twang, a kind of Hollywood attempt at rural Irishness. That’s not to make light of this distinct north eastern Highlands lilt. Kevin asked me where I’d heard the best spoken English. ‘I’m not sure, everywhere I hear good and bad’, I’d told him. I don’t think there is a good model. He disagrees, and says that it’s in the Highlands. ‘Here people speak most clearly. We’re the easiest to understand, it’s our articulation’.

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Day 28: Berwick-upon-Tweed to Edinburgh

‘London? Too full of people.’ – heard twice in an hour, Berwick.

It’s a deliciously sunny and golden morning in sleepy Berwick, and I gaze out at the empty pier and lighthouse in the distance. Sat next to me is the ghost of L.S. Lowry, occasionally peering up from his easel as he converts the glory of the morning sea into one of his characteristic Berwick seascapes.

I am on the threshold between two countries, England and Scotland, one which lacks any real idea of its own identity, and another which realises it, and recognises the importance of political independence.

In truth England does have a kind of identity, one that belongs to upper middle-class London and the south-east. It has been aggressively normalised through school education, the centralisation of financial and political power in the capital, the Received Pronunciation of the BBC, the London-centric bilge that passes for popular journalism, and decades of casually ridiculing and economically depriving other regions of England. But this is not England, and the different regions I’ve travelled through have either quietly asserted their identity (like Yorkshire, or the West Midlands) or cried out for one (like south Essex).

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