SHEDNOTES 144: More of As Others See Us

The Shed is offering the following review …

Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage is latest in a long line of travellers to explore the West Country and report back to the nation.

Armitage, Simon - Credit Paul Wolfgang Webster

Simon Armitage: picture by Paul Wolfgang Webster.

Already this summer we have had Channel Shore, Tom Fort’s exploration, by bicycle, of the coast between the white cliffs of Kent and Lands End.

See a review of that at

Now Faber & Faber has published Armitage’s report from the other coast, Walking Away – a follow-up to Walking Home, in which he took the Pennine Way back to the edge of Huddersfield, passing a sock around after readings of his poetry.

This time he started at Minehead, Somerset, took the South West Coastal Path to Land’s End and hopped on to the Scillies. It was tougher than the Pennine path, and almost too much for him, because of all the climbing into and out of coastal combes, and he finishes the book deciding that it was probably his last marathon walk.

On the way …

* At WOOLACOMBE, he noted: “In a depressingly literal way the strandline along Woolacombe Sands represents the coming together of Man and Nature, because as well as bladderwrack, feather, cuttlefish and bone, most of what has washed up here is of human making … plastic netting, cassette tape, oil drums, dollops of tar, a golf tee, dozens of plastic lollipop sticks, hundreds of plastic bottles, milk cartons, a burst balloon … the list gets longer with every step.”

* A little further on, he wrote: “CROYDE has a particular reputation in these parts, immediately reinforced by the presence of half a dozen well-moisturised teenage boys with public-school haircuts, loafing on their surfboards and enjoying the sound of their own nicknames.”

* He stopped at HARTLAND ABBEY, with Sir Hugh and Lady Angela Stucley, and reported: “Sir Hugh is on a mission to reintroduce the large blue butterfly, which became extinct in Britain in 1979 but is making something of a comeback. Its survival depends on a complex combination of environmental factors, including an abundance of wild thyme and the presence of a particular ant species. At some point in the larval stage of its life cycle, the large blue tricks the ants into taking it underground, where it then feeds on ant larvae or mimics the embryonic ants and demands to be fed. Reintroducing the butterflies means reintroducing the ants, which means getting rid of the gorse under which nothing lives, which means bringing back sheep or goats or cattle to graze the slopes, then bringing back the rabbits which were taken out by myxamatosis. When I ask Sir Hugh what the large blue looks like, he says, ‘Like the small blue, but bigger’.”

* At WIDEMOUTH BAY, the poet lamented: “Every valley crossing saps blood from the limbs and air from the lungs, and going up and down the gears all the time makes it impossible to build up any kind of momentum or fall into a stride.”

* At BOSCASTLE, speaking as a translator of the legend of Gawain & The Green Knight, he advised: “Say it quietly, but King Arthur never existed. The most that can be argued is a gap or absence in the circumstances of these islands into which a sixth-century Arthur-like leader might fit.”

* At PADSTOW he met marine naturalist Dr Michael Kent …

“His true field of interest and expertise is the humble limpet. How they ‘farm’ particular areas and get territorial with other limpets that stray into the wrong patch, sometimes bulldozing their competitors right off the face of the rock. On quiet evenings, with the tide out, the background noise is the sound of thousands of active limpets rasping and grinding away.”

* In NEWQUAY: “It is the morning after the night before. Someone crawls out from the back seat of a Ford Fiesta, stretches his limbs, cleans his teeth in the corner of the car park with toothpaste and Stella Artois, checks his hair in the wing mirror, then strolls across to the railing overlooking the bay and lights a joint.”

* In ST IVES: “They can choose from high-end pots or paintings with ‘London prices’, watercolours of local landmarks, hand-crafted knick-knacks and mass-produced beach scenes. St Ives is an artists’ colony not just in the sense that it offers a home, a community and even an education to many serious practitioners, but that it acts as a point-of-sale to customers of every pocket or purse held captive within the lobster pot of its narrow lanes.”

* In the SCILLIES, he summed up: “If St Mary’s is the polis, dominant in every way, then St Martin’s is its proud provincial elsewhere, and St Agnes its enigmatic alternative, and Bryher a kind of people’s republic looking sarcastically across towards Tresco, thought of by some as stage-managed and synthetic … though in reality Tresco is too varied to be so casually stereotyped.”

Read more in the book Walking Away, which is published by Faber & Faber with a recommended price of £16.99 for the hardback edition.

Walking Away

* This review is taken from Notes From The Shed, a blog published from Horrabridge. See more at

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