Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now by Stuart Maconie

I knew of the Jarrow March/Crusade in 1936, but not much about it beyond the fact that men from Jarrow in Tyneside marched from their home town to London to present a petition against the mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east of England. Stuart Maconie has filled in the gaps in his excellent book Long Road from Jarrow: A journey through Britain then and now. In October last year he retraced the route they took, 300 miles, comparing what conditions and attitudes were like in 1936 with those of 2016. The men were accompanied for part of their march by Ellen Wilkinson, who was the MP for Middlesbrough East and it was Ellen who presented their petition to the House of Commons. But despite their protest and all Ellen Wilkinson’s efforts on their behalf it didn’t result in any improvements for employment in Jarrow.

Maconie a writer, broadcaster and journalist, writes fluently and with conviction. The Long Road from Jarrow is a mix of travel writing, social and cultural history and political commentary, with the main emphasis on the current social, cultural and political scene. It’s a thought-provoking book that both entertained and enlightened me. Maconie writes about the past, the history of the places he walked through and the tales and reminiscences of the people he met. He also writes with enthusiasm on such topics as football and music and food. It’s a lively, chatty account that includes the thorny topic of Brexit, the current and past state of the north/south divide and considers what it is to be ‘British’.

I was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed this walk through England, past and present. My copy is an ARC from the publishers via Netgalley.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1617 KB
  • Print Length: 365 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1785036319
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (20 July 2017)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, but with
Christmas and New Year just a few days away this is just a brief post to record a few of my thoughts before they fade from my mind.

This is the Blurb:

In the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here nor There), Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.

And here’s what I thought:

I was fascinated by it all from the details of the Appalachian Trail itself stretching from Georgia to Maine, to Bryson’s observations about the people he met, the difficulties of walking with a huge backpack, and his relationship with Katz, who struggled to keep up with him. I know what that feels like, hiking with people fitter than you and seeing them march off in front of you, waiting for you to catch up and then setting off again – I felt sorry for Katz.

I can’t say that it made me want to go out and walk for days along a long distance trail, but I did enjoy reading about his experiences and his descriptions of the trail and of the places he visited off the trail. Some of the route sounds very dangerous, such as this for example as Bryson and Katz walked through a snow storm:

… we came to a narrow ledge of path along a wall of rock called Big Butt Mountain.

Even in ideal circumstances the path around Big Butt would have required delicacy and care. It was like a window ledge of path on a skyscraper, no more than fourteen or sixteen inches wide, and crumbling in places, a sharp drop on one side of perhaps 80 feet and long, looming stretches of vertical granite on the other. Once or twice I nudged foot-sized rocks over the side and watched with faint horror as they crashed and tumbled to improbably remote resting places. (pages 100-101)

What? He watched with ‘faint horror’? It terrifies me just to think of being on a path like that! He goes on to say that all the way along this ledge they were half blinded by snow and jostled with wind. It wasn’t a blizzard, it was a tempest and at one point Katz lost his footing and ended up hugging a tree, his ‘feet skating, his expression bug-eyed and fearful’. Oh, no that is definitely not for me.

I liked all the facts about the flora and fauna, and the history of the Trail and indeed about the history connected to the landscape.  Bryson’s descriptions set the scene so vividly I could easily imagine myself there – too easily in the hard places, but also in the beautiful locations, such as this in the Shenandoah Valley:

… a spacious, sun-dappled dell, tucked into a bowl of small hills, which gave it an enchanted secretive feel. Everything you might ask of a woodland scene was there – musical brook, carpet of lush ferns, elegant well-spaced trees … (page 204)

I wished it had an index and that the map of the Trail was more detailed, oh and some photos would have been good. I shall have to wait until I see the film to really see what the Trail is like.

I set out to write just a brief post! But there is so much more that I could have written that really it is just a brief post.

Saturday Snapshots – Great Hetha Walk

We’ve been having a mix of weather recently what with wet days, windy days, dull grey days and a few beautiful sunny days. Wednesday was one of the days when the sun shone the sky was blue and it even felt a bit spring-like. So that afternoon Dave and I decided it was time we took a walk in the Cheviot Hills.

We’ve lived just north of the Cheviots for nearly two years now and have been saying ever since we arrived that we must go walking in the hills. I don’t know how many hills there are that form the range, but there are many of these rounded hills bisected by valleys. They straddle the border between England and Scotland, that area of land fought over in the past, a land where the Border Reivers held sway. The Cheviot, itself is the highest point at 815 metres and the last major peak in England, but we decided to start small with Great Hetha above College Valley and work up to walking the Marilyns.

The photo above shows the view at the start of our walk with Great Hetha on the skyline. It’s 210 metres at the summit where there are the remains of an ancient hillfort. We parked in the car park just south of Hethpool and the walk began easily enough along the private road through the Valley. The photo below shows the Valley looking south:

After a short distance and turning right it’s a steep uphill climb described in Walks in the Cheviot Hills by David Haffey as a ‘strenuous climb‘! I was soon struggling for breath. We stopped halfway up to look at the view northwards to Scotland (and to get our breath back!).

Looking up at that point we could see a small cairn on the summit, still a steep climb ahead.

It was worth the climb to reach the hillfort. This is an Iron Age hillfort dating from about 500BC. The remains of the stone ramparts are still there and it was easy to imagine what it must have been like in such an isolated place, being able to see for miles around, aware of any approach to the hill. According to the Walks guidebook such hillforts would have contained several timber-built round-houses within the stone ramparts, probably being occupied for several centuries.

From there we left the route in the guidebook and walked down the other side of the hill to the valley below and crossed the Elsdon Burn. The sky was most dramatic:

It was getting towards the end of the afternoon and as we headed back to the car, the sheep were being rounded up in the field, below a wooded dome-shaped hill known locally as the Collingwood Oaks (after Admiral Lord Collingwood – there is a hotel in Cornhill called the Collingwood Arms, more about that another time maybe). I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the running sheep (they were galloping!) but I managed to snap the farmer and his three sheepdogs on their way back, with the Collingwood Oaks in the background.

There are more photos of our walk on Flickr.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce, At Home With Books.