Where I Walked
The walk passed through the English countryside, suburbia, towns and cities - I went where the line took me. The route followed a forty-five degree line, north-west to south east, passing through the actual middle of England.
Yes, England only, for a number of reasons. To start with, Walking on Water involved only English waterways, and as Diagonal Walking was a sort-of homage to that book I wanted to replicate that. Another reason was that one of the key forces at work over the last twenty years has been the rise of nationalism. In 1999, the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies had only just begun, and since then, of course, we’d had the Scottish independence referendum; and I wanted to acknowledge that change. Finally, there’s already a sort of England/Scotland diagonal route in John O’Groats to Land’s End, and I wanted my route to be unique.
North-west to south-east?
Look at the map – there’s a lot more people and places to encounter following this direction. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Yorkshire Moors, but I wasn't really sure walking across them was really going to help in my larger quest. By one estimate, half the population of England lived within five miles of my preferred route. Besides, very near the start of the walk is Runcorn, which also features in Walking on Water, and you don’t get too many reasons to go to Runcorn. Furthermore, within a couple of miles of the start there was the large Anthony Gormley installation ‘Another Place’. This consists of a hundred cast iron figures of men looking out to sea – call it a metaphor if you like. Finally, the route also passed through a number of places that have featured in my life, call it karma.
The Middle of England?
It’s a disputed title, but I give more of my reasoning in the blog The Search For Middle England.
The line was approximately 250 miles long, from Formby outside Liverpool in the north-west to the Romney Marshes in Kent in the south-east, but obviously I couldn't follow it slavishly. For one, I’d be walking through (rather than on) water, with the Mersey, Thames and Medway rivers all posing challenges; as well as people’s gardens – to say nothing of the fact that the route passed over the runway of Luton Airport. So, I zig-zagged my way along, using footpaths, bridleways, towpaths and minor roads, resorting to A-roads only when absolutely necessary, and even then only for a few hundred yards at a time.
I walked in stages, aiming at at least ten miles a day depending upon distractions, for maybe a week’s worth of walking at a time to re-coup and recover, as well as catch up on my Walk With Me channels. In the end, it took 39 days walking.