Roger Butler reviews Diagonal Walking by Nick Corble (Matador, £12.99)
Twenty years ago, with a trademark umbrella sticking out of the back of his pack, Nick Crane walked from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Dorset coast as he closely followed the line of longitude known as the Central Meridian. Now, a different N.C. has completed a similar sort of undertaking, coast-to-coast, from Liverpool to Kent.
Nick Corble picked a diagonal line which sliced through England at 45° and, using only public footpaths, planned a route which passed through both affluence and austerity. He explored homely countryside and hidden canals; he wandered through Anthony Gormley’s metal men on the beach at Formby and borrowed binoculars in the bird reserve at Purfleet; he sometimes lost his way but managed to successfully locate the geographical centre of England.
There were no mountains to climb but Nick did tick off Britain’s last ever trig point. This was erected in Stoke-on-Trent in1986 and its breezy spoil-built ridge, with views over Wedgwood’s former rural arcadia, is now surrounded by thickets of trees. And, for its first few months, it was even accompanied by another of those metal men. Three or four days later, the state of the signs and stiles meant he was pleased to be leaving Staffordshire and, having spent an age looking for the correct path he hailed a distant tractor driver. It wasn’t much help: “Haven’t a clue. I live twenty miles away.”
Brexit formed the backdrop to much of the walk and, whilst the strong diagonal presented several multi-faceted challenges, the author’s biggest test during the red hot summer of 2018 was to gain a better insight into the state of the nation as it still came to terms with the red-raw referendum decision. He quizzed farmers (one was called Mr Farmer) and pub landlords and bumped into teams on their Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. As the Met Office warned people to go inside because of the heat he stayed out and talked to narrowboat owners, fruit growers and a former fighter pilot.
The journey ended on a shingle beach near Dungeness, where 932,000 steps, 410 miles and 39 days of walking were summed up in a final recommendation: “If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, find the time and energy to do it. It won’t happen unless you do.”