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WALKING THE GREAT NORTH LINE by Robert Twigger book review

  • Written by  Chris Fitch
  • Published in Books
WALKING THE GREAT NORTH LINE by Robert Twigger book review
19 Mar
2020
by Robert Twigger • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £20/£13.99 (hardback/eBook)

Wake. Walk. Coffee. Walk. Pub. Walk. Camp. For anyone searching for a book brimming with monotony and routine, this one has it all.

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The premise here involves the discovery, by our protagonist Robert Twigger, of a dead straight line running roughly 400 miles from Hengistbury Head, near Christchurch in Dorset, to the island-peninsular of Lindisfarne, Northumberland – passing through 42 significant ancient sites en route. Taken by what surely can’t be mere coincidence, he decides to traverse the line on foot. Yet while it is on the surface a documentation of walking something close to the length of England – no small achievement – Twigger chooses to revel primarily in the humdrum of his endeavour. Th ere is a promise, oft-repeated, not to avoid the hardships of walking itself, that ‘the pain will not be forgotten’. In this, he certainly delivers, even overcompensates.

He has a geeky personal interest in these ancient sites, happily delving into theories about shamanism and rituals alongside other, more mainstream, proposals regarding their historical usage. His rebellious opinion that such sacred sites can never be private, out of bounds to curious wanderers such as himself, is oddly alluring. ‘This was a walk in which freedom of a sort was tested,’ he writes, ‘freedom also includes not paying for things that are ours by rights, by the right of ancient England.’

Yet, perhaps cynically, the line is perhaps a flimsy excuse for what Twigger really wants to write about: the nitty gritty of walking – sourcing water, the joys of fire, boots, bags, how to cross a river, how to avoid blisters, how to avoid getting lost – but feels the need for a more overarching purpose for his pilgrimage. Twigger has spotted a straight line that links interesting places. Is it significant? Maybe, maybe not, let’s go and see. Endearing, but ultimately the line plays very much a supporting role in this project. Nevertheless, it’s an easy book to read, with a nice flow, plenty of light-hearted anecdotes, and a worthwhile sense of adventure, as he experiences the country from a pleasantly different perspective.

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