Walking Away is the ‘sequel’ to Walking Home, (which I have not read), where Armitage set up a kind of experiment to see if he could live off his wits as a travelling poet and pay his way, walking home along the Pennine Way. Apparently it was successful. It occurred to him that it was not really a stretch, for he was on home ground. Would it work on another path, somewhere quite different to his homeland? He chose part of the South West Coastal path.
A friend leant the book to me, else I would certainly have never come across it. It intrigued me – the coastal path that frames my home county, and a poet holding the pen. What riches I expected.
Walking Away was not a bounty of riches, but lurched, rather like the frequent ups and downs of the rugged coastline. There were occasional brilliances in the prose, lines that you wanted to savour, decadently, like a piece of dark chocolate, but these were midst so much grumbling narrative. Armitage struck me as a disgruntled troubadour, and I did not warm to him. His boots were falling apart, his back hurt, the paths were too treacherous to allow anything but looking at the path. There were many followers and hangers-on, so he craved being alone. In finding himself alone, he became concerned that the days would become indistinguishable in his toil.
Perhaps I was asking too much of Armitage. Perhaps it was poor timing on my part to read the book durging my recuperation from lung surgery. I wanted the escape from my inability to tramp a long path, to breathe in the sea air, and stretch my legs with him. Instead, it was a great relief to wave him off.
Armitage completely annoyed me in the afterword, fortunately it was positioned as such, else I fear I would have never set off with him. He had a preconception of stereotyping the generosity of the northern and southerners in their contribution to his sock, totalling the payment received enroute. He abandoned that idea somewhere along the path, thankfully. However, this also wasn’t a poet wandering and making his way as he went – his generous thanks were given to Caroline Hawkridge who stage managed the accommodation, transport and readings.
For the gems, those savoured observations in Walking Away, there was too much hassle. Perhaps that’s what Armitage himself felt about the whole experience. One that he said he would not be repeating.