Book Review: Walking Home by Simon Armitage

In the summer of 2010 the British poet Simon Armitage decided to have, at age 47, his midlife crisis. The crisis manifested itself not in buying a red sports car or taking up with a younger woman, but rather in hiking the Pennine Way and then writing about it. The result of which is Walking Home: Travels With a Troubadour on the Pennine Way.

The Pennine Way is a walking trail in Britain, similar to the Appalachian Trail in America. The 268 mile (430 kilometers) trail wanders through southern Scotland and Yorkshire in Northern England. Armitage himself says: “the Pennine Way is a pointless exercise, leading from nowhere in particular to nowhere in particular, via no particular route and for no particular reason.” While most people go from south to north, Armitage went the other way; coming from Scotland walking toward his home in Yorkshire.

Before he started the walk Armitage posted on his website requesting room and board along the way, as well as anyone wanting to accompany him at least part of the way. On the walk, things vary according to weather and place. Sometimes Armitage has company. Sometimes he walks alone. Some days are a joy and others he seems down and hopeless. At least once he nearly decided to chuck the whole idea and head home.

Yet he finds nuggets of pure gold to him and to the readers of the book; Kind people who take him in to their homes, who offer help and assistance. To make some ready cash Armitage gave readings of his poetry to a variety of audiences. Sometimes he got money for the readings, sometimes he got nothing.

Walking Home is no navel gazing contemplation or record of superhuman stamina. Instead Walking Home is the story of a trip that is more down to earth than that.

Sometimes Armitage’s prose soars and flies as one would expect from a skilled poet, other times it lays as flat as a rain soaked tablecloth. But it is always readable and often times wry and insightful. This is what makes the book so nice. It is not just a travelogue, but is rather an understandable narrative of one man’s journey. Armitage’s descriptions and observations are perceptive and amusing. To sum up Armitage has done far more than just take a long and wandering walk. In Walking Home he has produced a tale not about the geography of Northern Britain, but about human relationships.

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