It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed one of my Deepings U3A Monday Reading Group books on Linda’s Book Bag, so I thought it was time I rectified that. This month we will be discussing Simon Armitage’s Walking Home and I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t really thought about him as a prose writer, rather than a poet, but that situation is well and truly rectified now.
Walking Home is available for purchase here.
In summer 2010 Simon Armitage decided to walk the Pennine Way. The challenging 256-mile route is usually approached from south to north, from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm, the other side of the Scottish border. He resolved to tackle it the other way round: through beautiful and bleak terrain, across lonely fells and into the howling wind, he would be walking home, towards the Yorkshire village where he was born.
Travelling as a ‘modern troubadour’ without a penny in his pocket, he stopped along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs and living rooms. His audiences varied from the passionate to the indifferent, and his readings were accompanied by the clacking of pool balls, the drumming of rain and the bleating of sheep.
Walking Home describes this extraordinary, yet ordinary, journey. It’s a story about Britain’s remote and overlooked interior – the wildness of its landscape and the generosity of the locals who sustained him on his journey. It’s about facing emotional and physical challenges, and sometimes overcoming them. It’s nature writing, but with people at its heart. Contemplative, moving and droll, it is a unique narrative from one of our most beloved writers.
My Review of Walking Home
Setting out to walk the Pennine Way ‘the wrong way’ as a modern day troubadour, Simon Armitage occasionally finds he has bitten off more than he can chew!
I loved Walking Home. It completely took me by surprise and enchanted me. I haven’t been walking in the UK for a few years and I immediately want to dig out my walking boots and head to the hills. I don’t know if my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I have walked in many of the same places in similar weathers but I felt as if I were travelling along with Simon Armitage as he walked, seeing the same sights and encountering the same challenges, so vivid was the writing.
As one might expect from a renowned poet, the language in Walking Home is fluid, beautiful and gorgeously descriptive. However, I wasn’t expecting it to be hilariously funny and so self-effacing too. I think my husband thought I’d taken leave of my senses as I kept trying to read parts aloud to him but couldn’t finish because I was laughing so much. It’s not that Simon Armitage writes hilarious prose, but conversely that he has a pithy and dry wit that drops in with incisive precision via a couple of choice words after a lengthy prose passage so that the contrast has real impact. Usually this comes in the direct speech that is used so sparingly and so entertainingly. The contents of the sock passed round like a hat after the author’s poetry readings always provided high interest and entertainment too.
Each chapter in Walking Home is a different day on the journey and these make for self-contained narratives that can be enjoyed and dipped in to when a reader might be in that particular environment, so that I think Walking Home would be a wonderful text to read after a day spent walking the same route. That said, I read the book chronologically and kept thinking I’d just read one more day and one more day until I’d travelled the entire length of the walk through highly entertaining writing that I couldn’t put down.
Although this isn’t a narrative in the conventional sense of a novel, there is still a wonderful cast of characters to meet. I especially liked Slug. What Simon Armitage does so well is to leave the reader to fill in his opinions. He makes a factual statement about the people he has encountered which makes it obvious what he thinks of them without him saying so directly. I loved that approach as it made me feel conspiratorial and privileged as if I were privy to Armitages inner most thoughts.
I really enjoyed Walking Home as it is witty, entertaining and so well written. I would love to read more prose from poet Simon Armitage.
About Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage was born in West Yorkshire and is Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield. A recipient of numerous prizes and awards, he has published eleven collections of poetry, including Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989-2014. He also writes extensively for television and radio and is the author of two novels and the non-fiction bestsellers All Points North (1998), Walking Home (2012), and Walking Away (2015). His theatre works include The Last Days of Troy, performed at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2014. In 2010 he received the CBE for services to poetry and in 2015 was appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.