Monday, February 26, 2007

Day 36 : Alston to Haltwhistle

Monday 19th February 2007

Distance Walked: 14.1 miles
Start Time: 8:54
End Time: 13:49
Elapsed Time: 4:55
Weather: Overcast but dry
Distance walked so far: 701.6 miles

The beard, such as it is, remains. I’m hoping it may become a conversation piece, a modern day curio, a mechanism with which to integrate with the locals and to initiate sympathy when required. I am afflicted. A freak. It is my curse. My Merrick’s trunk. I name it Dufus, though tell no one of this.

The regulars at the bar of the Cumberland Hotel are clearly accustomed to stranger things though, and their brief acknowledgements of my presence mainly revolve around the fact that I’d best be taking the path along the old railway line if I’m heading northwards. Spent millions on it, they have. Millions. This fact is related with such passion that it’s clear that each and every one of them believes that those millions would have been rightly theirs if only the blasted path hadn’t existed. Damn the path. Damn it to hell.

For me, however, the path is a godsend. Following the route of what used to be the highest single-gauge railway in the country, the South Tyne Trail runs virtually parallel to the Pennine Way, but has the benefits of being flat, level and relatively straight. And though there is still a notion of a working tourist railway for the few miles to Kirkhaugh, the rails were under repair when I set off so I was safe in the knowledge that I would not be mown down when, like a wandering vagabond, I strode down the tracks whistling “The Littlest Hobo” and failing to invoke the spirit of some dustbowl-era drifter.

After Kirkhaugh, the railway line disappears, replaced by a succession of comforting surfaces. It’s a day without incidence and, apart from the trip under and along the Lambley Viaduct, almost devoid of highlights. It’s such a relief, though, to have easy day of walking, with no concerns about navigation or weather, that I find it all rather enjoyable, and hardly notice that, when I reach Haltwhistle, my destination is one of the gloomiest and sinister places I’ve yet encountered.

Haltwhistle proclaims itself as the geographical centre of Britain which, for someone who has just walked from one of the furthest corners of the country, has a certain appeal. The claim is based on maths and angles but, with my inherent distrust of geometry, I spend little time attempting to fathom it. I’m aware of other towns with similar claims, though I doubt any are as forceful in their proclamations, for Haltwhistle uses the mixed media assault of signposts, hoardings and bunting, all shouting the message that “This is the Centre of Britain”. This is reinforced by the Centre of Britain Hotel, Centre of Britain Launderette and Centre of Britain Fish & Chip Shop. Get the picture?

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely town around which the rest of the country would revolve. Haltwhistle is odd. It feels like an outpost and, for the first time, I’m moving out of my comfort zone. I live in the Midlands. I was born in the North. Whilst there have been many areas that I have visited on this walk for the first time in my life, I had always been heading towards the familiar. Now I’m walking away from everything I know, and it’s beginning to feel like a real adventure.

Song of the day:

The The
“Lonely Planet”

I’m in love with this planet I’m standing on /
I can’t stop, can’t stop thinking of /
All the people I’ve ever loved /
All the people I have lost /
All the people I’ll never know /
All the feelings I’ve never shown /
The world’s too big and life’s too short /
The world’s too big and life’s too short /
The world’s too big and life’s too short /
To be alone…to be alone


John Hee said...

Call that a beard?
I've seen more fluff on a ..........(fill in as applicable)

Keep up he good work - here comes the better weather

Ben Joyce said...

on a "gnat's arse" ?