The Sense of an Ending
Welcome back to another ‘eve of walk’ themed blog, written as I wind up the planning for the fourth leg of Diagonal Walking. As with the last ‘Progress’ blog, I’m going to use this one to bring you up to speed with the walk itself and also some of the work going on behind the scenes regarding the Diagonal Walking travelogue. As has now also become the norm, I’ll also give an update on some numbers.
The last leg left me in Newport Pagnell, although I added a day on to the end of that stage to visit Milton Keynes. There, caught up with both the town itself, and the people living in the house I helped build there over thirty years ago. There’s more on this in this podcast which is also available on the Diagonal Walking feed on iTunes. Just so it didn’t feel left out, I also wrote a separate blog on Newport Pagnell.
From the delights on the north of Buckinghamshire, on this fourth stage I’ll be heading into Bedfordshire. For much of the way I’ll be following the line of the MI, well, at least as far as Luton. I’m staying the night in Luton and hope to have a little bit of time to explore why it has such a reputation for extremism. That’s of both the far-right and Jihadist varieties. Wish me luck. Luton also presents one of the route’s main physical obstacles. The diagonal line passes directly through the main runway of the town’s airport! Luckily, there’s a way around it, following the Upper Lea Valley Walk, but things could get a bit noisy for a while.
There’s a fair bit of urban walking on this leg, especially towards the end, when I pass through East London. Before then though I have the delights of another new town to explore (Welwyn Garden City). The diagonal also passes a house I used to live in (it’s literally within yards of the line). As such, I’ve written to the current occupiers to see if a visit is possible. I’ll keep you posted.
From there, I pass through Enfield, Chingford and Walthamstow. So, if you’ve got used to pretty pictures of fields on the Instagram and Facebook accounts, get ready for something different in the coming days. As I write, the exact end point of this leg is open to events, but put it this way, I won’t be far from the River Thames, which I have a cunning plan to cross.
Planning for each stage requires a fair bit of work. Not only do I have to calculate a route and prepare copies of it onto A4 sheets, but I also have to find places to stay along it. Taking lessons from earlier in the walk, I try to find places as close to the route itself as possible. I’ll even manipulate the route to make this possible. While still keeping to my three mile corridor of the diagonal of course.
As such, once I’ve sketched out a route I then have to find potential places to stay. These may be budget hotels (all I need is a clean room, a bathroom and wifi), and ideally near somewhere I can eat. Airbnbs or kindly friends and family who can put me up also feature. Naturally, when planning, I start at the beginning of the route and then work my way down. You don’t want to fix up the back end of the trip and find the front end is impossible. All this takes time and needs to be done in advance. I’ve found that the sorts of places I’m looking to stay in are often in demand from contract workers during the week, something I hadn’t anticipated.
This, in turn, means needing to commit in advance. Whilst medium term weather forecasts can help in allowing me to know what I’m in for, they tend to be as reliable as a politician. However, the heatwave we’ve been having recently seems to have provided a more reliable indicator from Mother Nature. As such, I’ve decided on this leg to commit to shorter legs. At least that way I won’t over-do it, something to take into account when on my own and have somewhere I have to get to.
Once the practicalities are sorted, the research begins. I try to find out what I can about the places I’m passing through in advance. This helps to direct me towards places of interest and to make sure I don’t miss anything. Results from the research might be tangible – a specific thing to see – or intangible, a sense of a place, or an interesting fact or statistic.
My previous planning had suggested that Newport Pagnell would represent the half way point of my walk. I’ve reassessed this and reckon I’m probably now nearer to 60% of the way through. Indeed, by the end of this fourth leg I’ll be getting close to the end. This seems incredible, even though there’s still a way to go yet.
There’s no getting away from it though, there’s the sense of an ending to the project, or at least the actual walking side of it. I feel a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand there’s a sense of challenge met, on the other, there will be some grieving. The whole exercise has been fantastic fun, as well as stimulating.
The walking and the people I have met along the way has gone better than I’d anticipated. That said, when I set out I had hoped for a little more connection with third parties, for example people ‘finding me’ on the internet or through my publicity efforts. While there’s been a bit of this, it would have been nice to have more. It’s possible that I should have left more time for momentum to gather, but countering this has been a need within me to keep the momentum going on the walk itself, and to get it completed within the summer. This, in turn, is driven by the demands of the book and when I want it to be ready by. More on this in a moment.
Diagonal Walking – The Book
A key part of the Diagonal Walking project has been the writing and publishing of a book – a travelogue. I want this to be available around the proposed Brexit date of the end of March 2019. Diagonal Walking is not about Brexit, but there is a link to it. It’s my guess that it will act as a spur to contemplation about where we as a nation, and I hope my book will contribute to this.
As anyone who’s ever had contact with the publishing world will tell you, it isn’t exactly dynamic. It can take a year from signing a contract to seeing a book in print. Before then, you have to get the contract, which these days invariably means getting the attention of an agent. Neither agents nor publishers can be engaged without a completed manuscript, unless you’re a celebrity or established author, so you can see the dilemma.
Following the ‘traditional’ publishing route would involve a journey at least twice as long as the project itself, with no guarantee of success and the near certainty of the book now being available until 2020 at the very earliest. It’s not encouraging. For this reason, going down the self-publishing route is becoming more and more attractive. I also happen to think that from a marketing point of view, the book’s premise has enough of a sense of intrigue to be attractive to the organisers of talks, journalists and other media. I am confident enough in my own abilities in this field – to ‘sell myself’ – that my current mindset is this is the way I’ll go. I will approach more traditional publishers (there are three or four obvious candidates), but more in hope than expectation.
An integral part of Diagonal Walking was to get others to ‘Walk With Me’ virtually. I’ve had some success here. The most notable areas are in podcasting, where I’ve had about 500 downloads so far, and with Instagram, where I have around 800 followers at the time of writing. There’s a fair bit of coming and going here too, but I’m monitoring it and the general trajectory is upwards – I want genuinely interested followers, not people playing games. Reaching 1,000 followers here now seems very achievable, and I’d have taken this at the beginning. Twitter is interesting, with a steady flow of new followers, but these tend to be replacing my ‘temporary friends’ I gained through the competition I did with ‘Stay in a Pub’.
In terms of the walk itself, as I say on my ‘How I am Doing’ page, I reckon I’ve completed just under 250 miles and over half a million steps. I might not make a million steps, but it’s a good marketing angle! For those interested in the book, which I’ve been writing as I go, I’m now up to around 50,000 words, which is probably more than half.
There’s much more to come, so stay tuned and keep diagonal!
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