I’ve added a new video to YouTube detailing the last day of the walk and a few reflections from the whole experience. It’s called ‘A Million Steps Later’ and can be viewed here:
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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I’m back after a short break away from Diagonal Walking, busy planning the next stage. As promised in my last blog, I’m going to use this opportunity to allow you to ‘get inside my head’ a bit. At the moment my main preoccupation is around planning the next stage, which is a long one, rather than the actual writing. I’ll explain why there’s not so much on this later. By way of compensation for those interested in the writing process, I’ve included some initial thoughts on publishing. Also, for those who want to know, an update on progress of the various social media channels.
The next stretch of the walk takes me out of Staffordshire. This is a big deal, see the Surviving Staffordshire video if you don’t understand why. Yes, within a day I’ll be walking into Warwickshire. After that I’ll be more or less following the Warwicks/Leicestershire border. Incidentally, this or more or less congruent with the A5, of the Roman Watling Street. It’s curiously pleasingly that the Romans built their road on a diagonal line passing through the centre of the country!
From there, my route dives into the centre of Northamptonshire, and the county town, and then into the top of Buckinghamshire. Technically, it passes into the unitary authority of Milton Keynes, but I’ll ignore that for now. Places people might recognise include Atherstone, Hinckley and Watford – but not that one. The Watford I’ll be going through is the one better known through its service station Watford Gap. When people talk of ‘north of Watford’ it’s here they’re referring to, rather than Watford, Herts. Not a lot of people know that.
There are three significant landmarks on this leg, one geographical and the other two more personal. The geographical one is that I’ll be passing through the centre of England. As such, I will truly be in Middle England. As an earlier blog has outlined, this is on private land outside Fenny Drayton, near Atherstone. This is a big deal, as you can imagine. I’ve tried to get in touch with the farmer who owns the field it’s in, but no luck yet. I haven’t given up though. I’ve also tried to whip up some interest from the body responsible for tourism in Leicestershire, but also nothing so far. Disappointing.
The first personal milestone is that, all being well, I’ll also reach my own half way point by the end of the walk. Due to the shape of the country there’s more walking after Fenny Drayton than there is before the centre. As the How I’m Doing page shows, I’ve currently done nearly 300,000 steps, and I reckon I’ll be on more or less half a million by the end of this stretch, having walked around 250 miles.
The other personal milestone is I’ll be close to Milton Keynes. That may sound an odd thing to say, but Milton Keynes holds a pivotal part in my life story. It was here, over 30 years ago, that I helped build a house for an exhibition of energy efficient buildings. Ours was supposed to champion a self-build system, and we built the house over a series of weekends with architectural students providing the labour. The house is still standing, and I’ve tracked down the current owners and they’ve agreed to meet with me. This house is as old as my marriage – I had just met my wife to be when the project was, quite literally, getting off the ground. It will be interesting to see if it has lasted as well.
I’ve been spending some time planning the actual route, and it’s a bit tricky. Although it’s not as rural as the run through Staffordshire, places to stay remain few and far between. This has meant having to set quite long targets for each day. This decision has involved a trade-off between having somewhere to stay actually on the route, as tended to be the way on the first leg, and taking a wider brief and being prepared to travel, as was more the case on the second leg.
I’ve gone for the former. Even though I had the option on a car, the time wasted moving it around is time I’d rather spend walking. On average, I’ve ended up setting myself targets of around fourteen miles a day. This is more than I’d like, especially given the fact that having no car means carrying everything in a rucksack. This doesn’t daunt me too much – I have done these distances already, but the problem is I hadn’t planned for them. When I’ve done these sorts of distances earlier, it’s normally because something’s gone wrong. In other words, I’ve not left a lot of wriggle room. If the footpaths in the next counties are as bad as Staffordshire’s, I’m in trouble.
On the subject of the rucksack, I’m determined to make it lighter this time. As a large part of the avoidable weight is clothing, I’m going to pack light in that department. Don’t worry though, I’ve arranged to stay at an AirBnB half way round and to use their washing machine. For those that are wondering, I tend to use a combination of homestays, AirBnBs and cheap hotels. I am to spend no more than £50 a night on accommodation, sometimes its more, sometimes less.
This leg is going to be as long as the first one, but with a vital difference. This time, there’s less of the excitement that came with the whole project starting off. As such, there’s more of a sense of the mundane, no, not mundane, but routine. I remember having this feeling when I undertook the canal trek for Walking on Water, and I suspect it’ll pass. That, plus the distances, plus the variations in the weather forecasts for the week ahead, all add up to a sense of challenge and some trepidation. Still, challenge was part of what I signed up for so here I go!
Walk With Me – Physically
As anyone reading these blogs will know, the concept of ‘Walk With Me’ is integral to Diagonal Walking. Whilst I continue to have a great relationship with Stay In A Pub, we have yet to secure anything with one of their pubs. The idea was for me to give a talk on a weekday to boost trade, or to review their accommodation, but none have taken the bait so far. Hopefully, this will come in time. What will be, will be.
I have managed to secure two people to walk with me in person for one of the days, which is great. I have also got a good response from local community websites, and there’s still time for someone to come forward for other days. Response from more traditional media has been sluggish, although it’s not always possible to know you’ve been featured until you get a response from someone who’s read a piece. I did manage to get this piece in Waterways World, the leading canal magazine, which I was quite pleased with.
Walk With Me – Virtually
Stay In A Pub organised a competition which required people to follow Diagonal Walking on Twitter, and this resulted in a couple of hundred new followers. Most of these have stayed, and I’ve since built on this number to get to over 500. Instagram continues to be the best social media outlet for me. Even though I’ve had little new to post in the hiatus between legs, followers here are coming up to 600. In both cases, followers were half these total sat the start of the last leg. I sense some traction here now, especially with Instagram.
The podcasts are steady if unspectacular. I’ve had over 250 downloads so far, but the frustrating thing is not having any idea who these people are! Facebook remains much the same, gaining a fresh follower every now and then, and the YouTube videos are a useful backup. Out of interest, I’ve also asked my website designer to find out how many hits I’m getting on the website. I’ll amend this blog if I get this.
I mentioned the writing at the start. This is a frustrating area as I cannot do much actual tapping away at a keyboard without fresh material. Stuff keeps popping into my head – thoughts, reflections, ideas – and of course I capture these as notes, but I don’t want to ‘pre-write’ the book. I want it to be real, a true reflection of the experience. At the same time, once the antennae are active, it’s surprising how many things crop up that might be relevant to the book. The recent BBC exercise in defining ‘Englishness’ being a good example.
Planning for Publishing
I’ve begun to think about possible publishers. I recently completed a novel and have been trying to get agents interested in it, as this seems to be the only route into fiction publishers. The experience hasn’t been heartening, it’s a very tough world to break in to. That said, there’s a lot less publishers focussed on travel, so it should be possible to approach them direct. I have put together a list of likely suspects from the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook, but don’t want to start approaching them until the book is in a more complete state.
So, in conclusion, I’m beginning to consider my options here, but am not quite ready to act. I’d welcome any thoughts or advice people may be able to give. The one thing I can say for certain however, is the book will be published. Self-publishing is a common route for this kind of book, or I may focus on a combination of e-publishing and print on demand. This would reduce upfront cost, whilst still making it possible to satisfy both those happy with their Kindles and those who like a physical book. More on all this as it happens.
That’s about all for this update. I hope you’ve found it interesting getting inside my head and not too scary!
There’s much more to come, so stay tuned and keep diagonal!
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There comes a time when you have to break your duck, lose your virginity, get the first one over with. So it was with the first leg of my diagonal walk. In this blog I aim to share some of the emotions and practicalities involved with finally getting on the road. Of actually walking at last, as well as its aftermath.
Let’s start with how it felt to be actually walking. I’d planned for ten plus miles a day, with the first day slightly shorter. Best laid plans and all that. Around three miles were added to the first day to find the start point! On other days there was the disappointment of finding my bed for the night was still a couple of miles off. Take it from me, that’s not something you need after a dozen or so miles. Still, it was all learning for next time. I only count actual miles and steps on the walk in the ‘How Am I Doing’ section by the way. I’m usually doing much more than that in total over the day.
Another learning was what may appear to be ten miles on the map was rarely ten miles in reality. Hills and diversions all add to the total. Equally, I learned that the rucksack was heavy, although goodness knew why. I thought I’d packed light. On the other hand, it didn’t really trouble me once it was on my back, it was more the getting it on and off. I think it’ll be alright.
There’s no doubt my feet took a battering. I’d employed a two pairs of socks strategy, which I find usually does the trick, but not this time. Blister city. In the end I bought some special two layered socks in Liverpool, and these seem to act as a shock absorber, making the rest of the walk do-able. I was also expecting to feel more creaky the day after a long stretch and it was a surprise this wasn’t the case. Sure, the first mile or two required an extra push, as did the last mile or two, but I soon got into a rhythm. Maybe all the training actually paid off?
I usually tried to get on the road by nine or half nine. In theory, ten to twelve miles walking at three plus mph would mean, with a couple of stops, getting to my destination early afternoon. Again, so much for the theory. In reality, time tended to get gobbled up in the taking of notes, and in meeting my (self-imposed) social media obligations. Taking pictures, posting them with hashtags, thinking of and noting podcast ideas, and filming sequences (these often need more than one take, believe it or not), all take time. I now plan on around two mph.
In reality, I tended to get to my room for the night by late afternoon – around five. It was then that the fun began. Updating the social media, sorting out clothes, showering and tending to the feet, all took time. Then I had to find somewhere to eat. All this before readying myself for the next day, checking the route, making sure I had the right maps, ready for that none am start. Time, time, time.
From the start, I’ve wanted to make the Diagonal Walking project a collaborative exercise. I also wanted to get the first leg done so I had something to show to potential partners. I understand that for many there’s a huge gap between theory and practice. Of ‘getting Diagonal Walking. This has seen some success. I have received some press coverage (a couple of local newspapers and a national Waterways Magazine). I’ve also had an invitation to work with the StayInAPub initiative, funded by Cask Marque and Visit England, including a piece on their News page. This is a £1.2million initiative to promote walking trails and getting people to stay in pubs. Watch this space for updates on this, but I’m excited by it.
Having completed the first leg, I also felt more confident approaching national media, including newspapers and walking and outdoors magazines. This has already born fruit with the magazine TGO (The Great Outdoors) wanting to do a piece and an interview.
Walk With Me
I have also had my first Walk With Me companion, albeit only for a few yards as he is wheelchair bound. However, the next leg will see more of this. As for the virtual side of things, there is movement here too.
The Twitter account has seen around a 40% increase in followers since the start of the first leg and I’m starting to attract Facebook followers from outside the immediate friends and family circle, which is satisfying. The number of podcast downloads in April was double that in March, and I’m now well past the 100 mark here. It would be good to get into the high hundreds and maybe even thousands on at least one of the accounts.
Instagram looks like the favourite. This has seen a 50% increase in followers since the start of the first leg, but I did suffer a brief setback here. In an effort to ‘cull’ people I’d followed and hadn’t followed back, plus the various obviously non-sincere accounts (I’ll just say the word ‘actresses’), I blew a fuse in Instagram’s algorithm. It wouldn’t let me follow people back, or add fresh follows. Having Goggled the problem, it seems too much following and unfollowing makes you look like a bot, so they’d frozen the account. I felt like a child who’d been put on the naughty step. In the end it resolved itself overnight, thank goodness!
I started this blog with ‘Actually Walking’, and will now turn to ‘Actually Writing’. One of the main drivers for the project, other than doing it for its own sake, is to write a book about my experiences. Writing up my notes and creating a voice for the book has taken a good three to four days of my time since ending the first leg. But boy, what notes! The value of writing things down as I go, of having ready-baked finely parsed sentences, has proved to be essential. I’ve written around 15,000 words so far, which considering I reckon I’ve done 15-20% of the walk is probably about right, especially considering this is only a first draft.
Planning the Next Leg
The first leg has also shown the importance of good planning. So, nothing for it but to invest the same time in the next stage so it can be as successful as the first. This involves not only planning the route, but also researching places I should go and interesting details about where I will be walking.
The next leg is largely rural, and away from water, in contrast to the first. This will mean a lot more countryside walking and a lot less ‘civilisation’. As I’ve mentioned, I will have more partners walking with me on this leg, plus I am employing some back up in the form of my wife. She will have a car to get me to and from a central location, a cottage we’ve rented for four nights. This will give me more freedom to get as far as I can each day, rather than having a specific target. The route on the next leg will take me from Alsager, through Stoke and points south east, through Meir Health and Yoxall, with an ambitious target of reaching the National Arboretum at Alrewas, or as near to there as possible.
I hope you’ve found this update on progress blog interesting. There will be more to come! In the meantime, keep diagonal!
A keystone of Diagonal Walking is the concept of ‘Walk With Me’, both physically and digitally. If it helps, think of it as me kicking up a cloud of both dust and digital code as I follow my line down from Crosby down to Dungeness. I’m on the lookout for more partners. As my previous blog has shown, it’s already been rewarding working with others, but there’s potential for more.
Calling Potential Partners
As part of this, I am keen to find partners who might be interested in my walk. Or in walking, or just exercise in general. They may be active in promoting their local area, a breakfast club for example, a tourist body or a radio station. Or they may have a more tangential interest, perhaps as a manufacturer of walking clothing or equipment, or a small hotel chain (I’ll be staying in a lot of hotels and Air BnBs). Local businesses might also want to get into the act. A local drone photographer, a pub or a shop for example. Or maybe they’ll just be interested in something they regard as, well …. interesting!
Swapping Not Selling
The point is, I want to be able to connect with as wide a variety of people and organisations as possible – that’s why the website has a ‘Connect’ rather than a ‘Contact Us’ tab.
So, am I looking for sponsorship? No, it is my intention, certainly as I write this at the outset to the whole project, to keep things ‘pure’ if you will. I see Diagonal Walking as more of a collaborative rather than a commercial venture. The sorts of partners I’m looking for will be happy to operate on a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ level. Think of it more as swapping than selling.
Working in Harmony
To me, partnerships need two willing partners working in harmony, meeting both joint and specific interests. I’ve just made that up, but I think it works.
For my part, a specific interest would include boosting the number of individuals walking with me in a digital sense. In other words, working with partners who can introduce me to people who want to follow me on one of the social media platforms. Or they may be partners who may be able to help in my wider mission of trying to understand what makes the country tick. Other specific interests may be more basic. Swapping a bed for the night in return for a talk to a local society for example.
Partners’ interests could vary from exposure of their business, filling a talking slot in the diary, promoting their town or region or simply being associated with an innovative project. I don’t want to limit peoples’ imaginations, but rather spark them.
If you think you’d like to partner up and be part of Diagonal Walking, simply use the Connect link to reach me, and let’s start a conversation.
I first had the idea for Diagonal Walking as the basis of a walking book around ten years ago. I tried to pitch it to publishers, the logic being that it would describe a linear walk across a number of counties, thereby increasing the potential market. Most walking books tending to cover only one or two counties (your classic ‘Twenty Circular Walks in Anywhereshire’ book). Good though, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a great time for publishers. The so-called ‘Credit Crunch’ (remember that?) was hurting. Then there were pressures from printers as the shift to full colour from pure black and white took place. As such, it didn’t happen.
A Fresh Look
The idea was shelved, but towards the end of 2017, I reached up and blew the dust off it. Things had moved on. Not least the advent of social media. What had been a fairly analogue idea suddenly gained a fresh component. There was an opportunity to make this a three dimensional, more digital, project, involving both individuals and partners. ‘Walk With Me’ was born.
I dropped the idea into conversations with friends and family, and it began to spread like butter melting on a hot crumpet. The different elements of the idea, notably the route, ‘Walk With Me’, and the need to reconnect with what makes the country tick in a post-Brexit referendum world, all seemed to strike a chord. Suggestions were made and taken on board. It seemed I had a green light to take the idea to the next level.
Making It Real
Now, projects like this don’t just happen, but I was to be genuinely surprised by how quickly things did happen. Things got going in earnest in the new year, as I got a website designer on board, whose enthusiasm for the project was infectious (thanks Jigsaw Design). The next test was to see if the route was practicable, and if so how flexible I was going to have to be to make it work. I started with a trip to the library, where there was a full set of OS Explorer maps. Starting at the centre point of the walk in Fenny Drayton, I traced a finger along my proposed line. It worked. I opened the next map. It worked again.
A corridor of merely a mile or two either side of the line, miniscule in terms of the whole country, seemed to provide the necessary byways of footpaths, bridleways, towpaths and minor roads to move along the line. The next step was to work out which maps I needed to get to cover the whole route. There were eighteen of these and thanks be to eBay for reducing the cost here. With the exception of one or two obvious challenges (the runways of Luton airport being one of them), the same held for the entire route. It was do-able. How satisfying it was to draw a simple pencil line at forty-five degrees (arrived at using a protractor, an instrument I hadn’t touched for decades) down a number of OS maps.
Running, Not Walking
By now, I was almost waiting for the inevitable problem – things were surely going too swimmingly? But it didn’t come, I was running, not walking. I wanted the ‘Walk With Me’ element to cover podcasts and videos, so I contacted the local paragon of Higher Education, Bucks New University, and asked if the people on their Film and Broadcasting degrees were required to do practical exercises, and if so, could I please be one? It seemed they did, and I could. Within three weeks I had scripted and recorded the first three podcasts. I’d also scripted and filmed scenes for both the introductory website video and a longer one to start off a YouTube channel.
Within six weeks, the idea had taken on shape and begun to develop a momentum of its own. Things were getting real. Meanwhile, there was the small matter of fitness to consider. I regard myself as fairly fit – but ten miles a day fit? Um. Time to hit the treadmill, and get some advice courtesy of the good people at The Fitness Space.
The Next Steps (Quite Literally)
The next steps will involve setting an actual start date, probably in April, when the clocks change. Before the first step is taken however, I will need to research the first stages of the route and find people I can partner with. Also important will be the process of populating the social media with followers. Somehow just reaching out to family, friends and contacts isn’t going to cut it. I also need to learn how to create a podcast stream, and a YouTube channel. So far, it’s been terrific fun, and long may it continue, but I may need some help!
Keep checking these blogs to see how I get on, and of course, it you are a social media kind of person, please follow me on as many channels as you want.
Onwards and upwards!
There’s something special about being at the centre of things. You are the bullseye, the focus of attention, the heart of the matter. It comes as no surprise therefore that the field of contenders vying for the title of being the very middle of England is a crowded one.
It’s easy to see why there are so many claimants to the crown. After all, how do you define the middle of what is, indisputably, an irregular shape? The question is not dissimilar to other equally contested titles, like the country’s oldest pub or school. These all have more than one candidate – it all depends on which rules you use.
Runners and Riders in the Middle of England Chase
Following British legal tradition, the twin pillars of patronage and precedence tend to carry considerable weight. One claim in particular stands out to be the centre of England, that of Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire. This was chosen in the time of the Napoleonic Wars as the dead centre of the country. It was argued (not unreasonably) that this position would take the longest for an invading army to reach. It was even designated as a safe haven for the royal family should old Boney ever cross the Channel.
This claim had the additional benefit of being supported by armed force. It was decreed that if there was to be a last stand then it would be a spectacular one. A huge barracks and arsenal was built that, at its height, covered 150 acres and employed 500 men. The stronghold even had its own spur off the Grand Union Canal to speed the royal family there, although whether it’s possible to speed anywhere by canal is open to question.
The power of precedence over patronage is demonstrated by the strength of the claim from Meriden, near Coventry. Meriden nestles in a small section of green belt half way between Birmingham and Coventry in the parish of Solihull. Like the early explorers, Meriden has taken the route of planting something physical in an attempt to cement its case. Not a flag, but a sandstone pillar on the village green, which some say is over five hundred years old. Like Weedon, Meriden’s claim is based on a calculation that it lies at the furthest point from the sea of anywhere in the country.
When it comes to tangible symbols, Lillington just outside Leamington Spa out-trumps Meriden with its Midland Oak. Locals insist this marks the absolute, no doubt about it, dead centre of the country; although the exact provenance of this claim is unknown. As a precaution perhaps, in 1988 Lillington got the Duke of Gloucester to unveil a plaque recording the oak’s importance. Isn’t the current oak standing at the spot much too young though? Don’t worry, they’ve got that covered. It was grown from an acorn from a tree grown from an acorn from the original. Apparently.
Just as the business of claim and counter claim seems to be building up into an impenetrable fog the distant sound of hooves can be heard from the Ordnance Survey, who rode to the rescue in 2002 with an arbitration. Showing a truly English sense of fair play they decided to ignore all the competing claims and came up with their own definitive, unarguable, candidate.
Their calculations homed in on a modest farm in Leicestershire. The good men and women of the Ordnance Survey decided that if you wanted to stand in the very centre of England then you should head for a spot in the grounds of Lindley Hall Farm just outside Fenny Drayton, a mile or two north west of Hinckley.
The OS grid reference is 362964. Or if you want to be really precise its position is 52° 33’ 51.52” North and 1° 27’ 54.57” West. This is a degree of precision which seems to brook no argument. The method by which the Ordnance Survey arrived at this point follows a similar force of undeniable logic. Borrowing from the science of geometry they decided to arrive at the centroid or barycentre of the country. Stay with me on this. The centroid is the intersection of all the hyperplanes that divide an object X into two parts of equal moment about the hyperplane. In other words, it is the average of all points of X.
Brilliant! Most of us can understand a bit of geography. However, make the basis of your argument mathematics and you are unlikely to meet too many challengers. In an age where science rules, notions of romance and precedent are promptly swept aside and the title of being the centre of England is given incontrovertibly and without prejudice, to humble little Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire.
Just to make things plain, in 2013, a six foot high monument made out of a railway sleeper was installed to mark the spot – just to make sure.